THERE’S one reason the citizenship fiasco would’ve played out differently under Tony Abbott, and it has nothing to do with the former PM.
THROUGHOUT Tony Abbott’s leadership of the Australian government, there were questions over who was really in charge.
The former leader’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, who Mr Abbott himself described as “at times brusque”, was said to rule the PM’s office with an iron fist and had influence not only over the prime minister’s staff, but the leader himself.
Now, in a telling column, the political staffer-turned-commentator has revealed one way she might have wielded her considerable power, and the direction in which she might have navigated an Abbott Government to avoid the disaster currently facing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Questions over MPs’ eligibility to sit in Parliament raised in line with uncertainties about their citizenship status have landed the Turnbull Government in crisis.
The Prime Minister has already lost his deputy and another coalition senator, and clouds continue to form over his party’s MPs who have failed to resolve concerns they may carry dual citizenship.
Junior minister Alex Hawke, a Liberal MP, is the latest to have questions raised over his heritage that could see his election to Federal Parliament ruled ineligible.
Last week is was Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, who could technically be classed as a citizen of Hungary after his mother, a holocaust survivor, had her former “stateless” status addressed.
After months of inaction and multiple referrals to the High Court, the Prime Minister only today announced extra measures to strengthen transparency around citizenship of parliamentarians, and they’re nowhere near as strong as the audit politicians from other parties have been pushing for.
In a radio interview this morning, Mr Abbott resisted gloating that the dilemma mightn’t have happened under his leadership, but he did predict the PM would likely have to deal with more incidents.
“Until this matter is resolved, I think that it’s going to be an ongoing circus … and governments and countries can’t afford to have an ongoing circus of this type,” he said.
“Exactly how it’s resolved is up to the PM, that’s what PMs have to do, they have to make hard calls. (But) there is no doubt that we should not and cannot go on with the sorts of things that are happening at the moment.
“Every day it’s someone else. It was Josh (Frydenberg) last week, now it’s Alex Hawke. It’ll be someone else tomorrow, and that’s why this matter needs to be resolved.”
Mr Abbott didn’t go in to how he would resolve the issue if it was his government gripped by the citizenship furore, but his former partner-in-leadership has given some clues.
In her Sunday Telegraph column this week, Ms Credlin ripped into Mr Turnbull’s chief of staff and the PM over their handling of the debacle.
Ms Credlin conceded that no one in Turnbull’s strategy team would likely have foreseen the loss of the two Greens senators in July that triggered the whole furore, but said it was remarkable that they hadn’t effectively addressed the fallout since.
“It is beyond belief that since that time they haven’t done an urgent internal audit of all Coalition MPs to ascertain who in their ranks might be vulnerable and develop a contingency plan,” she wrote.
“I’m sure there are one or two ‘rocket-scientists’ inside the tent who have argued it is better not to know and hope they don’t get found out (and it looks like that’s the strategy they’re following), but that is death by a thousand cuts. It is also renders the Turnbull government, like Gillard’s, hostage to events and unable to establish a narrative.”
Ms Credlin condemned the Prime Minister and his staff’s handling of the crisis, criticising their oversight in either not carrying out an internal audit, or having done one they hope the media, and the public, doesn’t get wind of.
She proposed a simple solution — one a reader could assume she might have enforced had the situation arisen during her time in the prime minister’s office.
“Get your birth certificate, work out where your parents were born, check your four grandparents as well and if it involves anywhere other than Australia, tell the foreign country in writing that, for the avoidance of doubt, you renounce any entitlement to citizenship. Then, and only then, nominate for Parliament,” she wrote.
“If you’re in the Parliament already and you didn’t do these steps, you have questions to answer and should be referred to the High Court immediately.”
Separation of course has its benefits when running commentary on such an issue.
The competent political strategist arguably had the means to implement such an audit when questions over Mr Abbott’s own citizenship status were raised, and resolved, in 2014.
Back then, when an small political website instigated a “birther” movement against the then leader, the impact of Section 44 of the Constitution was raised but the campaign was quickly dismissed as “gotcha journalism”.
More than three years later, there is no sign of concerns over Section 44 and its potential effect on parliament being dismissed.
As Mr Abbott said, “the circus must end”, but the Government has failed to propose an effective way to end it.
The move the Prime Minister announced today, he stressed “is not an audit”, and he repeated that the obligation was “no each member and each senator to make a full disclosure”.
Mr Turnbull has dismissed media investigations into MPs as a “witch hunt”, and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said it was “crazy” to suggest that an audit was the appropriate way forward.
There’s no way of knowing how this issue could have been handled with Mr Abbott in charge or Ms Credlin behind the scenes. But, at least the former strategist has come up with way to deal with it that doesn’t give MP’s the chance to sit back banking on not getting caught.
Online Source News.com.au.