Press Conference: Citizenship and Section 44 – Perth

Transcript
03 Nov 2017
Perth
Prime Minister
Citizenship
E&OE

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning. It’s great to be home in the land of my birth, Australia. It’s now time to return to the land of common sense. The land of the rule of law. The land where the burden of proof is on those who accuse.

Let me address very clearly this issue of citizenship and eligibility to sit in the Parliament.

Every member of the House, every Senator, has a duty to comply with the Constitution. If they believe they are not in compliance with the Constitution, by reason of being a citizen of another country, then they should say so and ensure that the matter is referred to the High Court, so that it can determine the matter and make arrangements for the election of a new Member or a new Senator.

That is the law. The responsibility is on every Member and every Senator.

Those who allege that Members or Senators are not eligible to sit in the Parliament, they should make their case. They should set out what they allege and if a Member of the House or a Senator believes that one of their colleagues is not eligible to sit in the Parliament then they can stand up. They can stand up and seek leave to move a motion that their colleagues be referred to the High Court.

Because the only body in our Constitution that can determine whether somebody is eligible to sit in the Parliament or not, is the High Court of Australia. Nobody else can do that.

We have no place in Australia for witch-hunts. That is not our way. That is not part of the Australian way, it is not part of the rule of law. It is not consistent with our values or our principles.

The Parliament has the power to refer any member or Senator to the High Court on this question of eligibility and the High Court alone has the ability to determine it.

I just want to say something about Josh Frydenberg. Josh Frydenberg's mother Erica Strauss was born in 1943 in the Budapest ghetto. That's where the fascists had pushed all of the Jews in together as a prelude to sending them to the gas chamber. She wasn’t a Hungarian citizen when she was born and neither were her parents. You know why? The Hungarian fascist Government, allied with Hitler, stripped the Jews of all of their rights. The right to citizenship and the right to life.

Her family fled Hungary at the end of the war. It’s a miracle they weren't killed, as so many of their relatives were. Three quarters of all the Jews in in Hungary were murdered in the Holocaust and the prelude to murdering them was depriving them of their citizenship rendering them sub-humans in the eyes of the fascists and the Nazis.

I wish that those who make these allegations about Josh Frydenberg could think a little deeper about the history of the Holocaust. So, Erica Strauss came to Australia as a stateless person. She had no citizenship.

She came to Australia, she became an Australian citizen and she is Josh's mother.

Has this witch-hunt become so absurd that people are seriously claiming that Josh Frydenberg is the citizen of a country that stripped his mother and her family of their citizenship and would have pushed them into the gas chambers, had it not been that the War was ended before they had time to do so?

It's time we returned to the land of common sense and the rule of law.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister the High Court seems to give credence to foreign citizenship law, so why wouldn't Hungarian citizenship law apply in this case?

PRIME MINISTER:

The proposition that Josh Frydenberg is a Hungarian citizen is ridiculous and he has - as you know - spoken about it, dealt with it. Look, if any member of the House of Representatives wants to stand up and say, -and move - that Josh Frydenberg is a citizen of Hungary, the country that were it not for the end of the war, would have killed his mother and his grandparents, if somebody wants to stand up and allege that, fine. Let them do that. They can do that. We'll see if they persuade the House to refer the matter to the High Court, but that is the forum.

We are not going to have politicians, Members and Senators tried by innuendo and smear. Any member of the House is able to stand up and move to refer one of their colleagues to the High Court. If they want to do that they can stand up and make their case.

JOURNALIST:

What about Mitch Fifield? Is he going to maintain, why should he maintain his position in Cabinet if he admits that he knew about Stephen Parry?

PRIME MINISTER:

I wasn't party to any conversation so I can't speak about it, other than to say that the responsibility for complying with the Constitution is on each Member and Senator.

So it was Senator Parry's responsibility. Again, I can't get into a conversation, I can't comment on a conversation I wasn’t party to or present at. I think Mitch Fifield has addressed it.

JOURNALIST:

Surely given the level of crisis that this has become, Mitch Fifield had a responsibility to go to someone and say: “Stephen Parry has just told me he think’s he’s a British citizen?”

PRIME MINISTER:

Again, you’re speculating. I don't know what was said between the two, but the responsibility lies squarely with the senator concerned, in this case Senator Parry.

JOURNALIST:

If others know shouldn't they come forward with that information?

PRIME MINISTER:

It's a personal responsibility on every Member and every Senator full stop. If a Senator or a Member believes that one of their colleagues is not eligible to sit on the House or the Senate, they can stand up and they can seek leave to move a motion to refer them to the High Court and they can state the case and present the facts.

We are not going to engage in some kind of national witch-hunt. We are nation governed by the rule of law. The burden of proof is on the accusers and if anybody believes there are members of the House or the Senate that are not eligible to sit there, let them state their case. Let them state their case and there will be a response and of course, as I said, Members and Senators have an obligation to comply with the Constitution and if they believe that others are not doing so they can stand up and state the case against their colleague.

JOURNALIST:

Given the way it’s going, why not just do an audit? Have you given any more thought to that? 

PRIME MINISTER:

Well you’ve asked me about an audit, people have talked about ‘an audit’. What is an audit? I know what an audit is from an accounting point of view… so are we saying that we would propose, it is proposed to have somebody interrogate each and every Member and Senator, examine their genealogy, seek to uncover facts about their parentage that may not even be known to the Member or Senator? Then put them to the obligation of establishing what foreign laws may be, in some cases of enormous complexity. We saw a little glimpse of that in the High Court's recent decision, where it concluded in respect of Senator Canavan that you could not, he could not become an Italian citizen by descent, other than by making an application himself, which he hadn’t, that’s why they concluded that he is not a dual citizen. But these are matters of great complexity, are we really saying that burden of proof is now going to be imposed on every single Member and Senator for that type of interrogation?

The fact is the Constitution is very clear. Every Member and every Senator has an obligation to comply with it. The High Court has clarified the meaning of section 44 in respect of dual citizenship and it is up to Senators and Members to satisfy themselves that they are in compliance.

If they feel they are not, then they have an obligation to say so and ensure that their case is referred to the High Court.

As I said, if other Members and Senators believe one of their colleagues is not conforming or complying with the Constitution, then they have the ability to stand up and move that somebody be referred to the High Court.

The reality is that an audit, as you describe, would not resolve anything. Because all it would do, the most it can do, is end up by referring or recommending that matters be referred to the High Court. The fact is the only place that these issues can be dealt with authoritatively is the High Court of Australia.

Each house has the ability to refer people to the High Court and of course that has happened. It can happen in the future, if people conclude that they are not in compliance of the Constitution or others allege that colleagues are not in compliance, but that is the law.

We must not allow ourselves to be dragged into a sort of lynch mob, witch-hunt, trial by innuendo and denunciation.

There is an established process here. There is a court, the highest in the land, that has the constitutional authority to deal with it and the Parliament has the ability to make references to it.

So it's good to be back, it's good to be home in Australia, the land of my birth. It’s about time we all returned to the land of common sense and the rule of law.

Thank you very much.

[ENDS]