5
Nov
2017

Turnbull’s Leadership Dwindles Further

Has Turnbull Properly Renounced Foreign Ancestry?

As soon as Turnbull arrived back in Australia from his visit to Israel for the BeerSheba, he held a press conference in Perth at which he rejected the idea of having an audit to determine whether MPs have complied with the constitutional requirement of having no foreign ancestry or, if so, of having renounced it before becoming federal MPs. He particularly attacked reports that Frydenberg might be deemed to be of Hungarian ancestry because his mother was born in Hungary but escaped the killing of Jews there and migrated to Australia. Frydenberg  is reported as telling the ABC that “I did seek some advice and I am very confident with that ­advice but also contacted the embassy here and I was very comforted by conversations with them”.

But no document has been displayed by Frydenberg and it is not clear whether his statement would be treated as a renouncement by the High Court, which is the arbiter. Former Liberal MP Alex Som­lyay, who was born in Hungary and travelled to Australia as a “stateless” person in 1949, is reported as indicating that, in addition to discussions with the Hungarian ambassador,  “I wrote him (the ambassador) a letter and that was my renunciation of any rights I may have had to Hungary.” (see Turnbull Refuses Audit).

Nor is it entirely clear that Turnbull himself has properly renounced the foreign ancestry he derived from his mother, Angela Lansbury, who was born in London. Shorten, who has displayed his written renouncement in Parliament, is presumably satisfied that Turnbull has done so properly because he is not asking for a renouncement from him. Even so, I have not been able to find any reference to a renouncement on Turnbull’s website and, while his Wikipedia has a section on Ancestry, it is empty. One would have thought that his legal expertise would have led Turnbull to ensure that any biography would refer to a renouncement and emphasise his Australianess .

Meanwhile, while Turnbull suggests that the issue is one for each individual MP to handle, Shorten’s suggestion that all MPs should be asked to prove their bona fides seems a more sensible approach in circumstances where Turnbull seems reluctant to play a leadership role and Parliament is being regarded as a circus (see Shorten on Citizenship).Today’s Sunday Press indicates that other MPs may not have properly renounced their ancestry and Peta Credlin points out that, since the loss of the two Green senators in July, it appears that Turnbull’s strategy team have not instigated any check of the Coalition MPs (see Turnbull Dismisses Citizenship Scrutiny).

A bipartisan request to MPs to display their ancestry would help clarify the position both generally and in regard to Turnbull himself, although determining the exact requirements could still leave some vulnerable to a High Court decision. Note that S 44 (i) makes ineligible an MP who  “Is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power”. There may be quite a few who have only been given “rights or privileges” by a foreign power but who could be ineligible on that ground alone.

Correction To Today’s Commentary
Turnbull’s mother was not Angela Lansbury but her cousin Coral Lansbury, who was born in Melbourne. So his ancesters are acceptable for his eligibility as an MP. I misread Wikipedia. Thanks to Gary Banks for pointing this out.
Turnbull might still be the recipient of  “rights and privileges” given by a foreign power, though.

Turnbull’s Popularity

Although no new polling of the position of the Coalition and Turnbull has occurred since the 46/54 TPP a couple of weeks ago, the intervening period has (as Credlin’s article points out) continued to expose leadership problems. The following draws attention to the most important

  • Kevin Andrews, who challenged Turnbull for the Liberal Party leadership in 2009 in a move that paved the way for Mr Abbott to become party leader and who was dropped from the ministry by Turnbull, is reported as  declaring on 2 November that  “Australia needs to return to “strong” and “decisive” leadership as he refused to endorse Malcolm Turnbull as party leader” (see Kevin Andrews on Turnbull).
  • Leading commentator for The Australian, Simon Benson, wrote on 3 November that “It has not gone unnoticed among colleagues that several of Turnbull’s original sponsors inside the party room — notably James McGrath and Scott Ryan — have begun to crab-walk away from Turnbull. And the alleged factional antics of self-anointed leader of the moderates, Christopher Pyne, only feed into a perception that the moderates cannot be trusted” (see Turnbull Under Threat From Supporters).
  • Regular columnist for The Australia, Graham Richardson, wrote on 3 Nov that “Labor is getting off scot-free because of the utter failure of Turnbull’s leadership. Turnbull is becoming more and more isolated and I think I know why. Our PM has one thing in common with Gough Whitlam. He only ever wants to talk to people who are as intelligent as he is. But he never meets anyone in that category, so he talks to no one” (see Richo on MT).
  • Turnbull has announced that in the important Queensland election “It is now clear that only the LNP is committed to building the vital water infrastructure Queensland needs. We look forward to working with a future LNP government to deliver these water commitments”. However, it appears that the leader of the LNP has not invited Turnbull to participate in the election (see Qld Election- Turnbull Involved But Not Invited?).
  • Hanson has announced that, in the Qld election, she will “unveil a plan to shift $1.4 billion worth of returns from state government-owned corporations into electricity price subsidies for households, countering a Labor offer to cut $50 from Queenslanders’ power bills”. Importantly, she said” the cost of electricity was the key concern of voters and neither of the major parties was doing enough to help. It’s the main thing affecting the whole state. I have travelled all over Queensland and people are suffering across the state, businesses are closing down and it’s hurting ordinary families. “If we can get the prices down, it will lift business and investment, and more jobs will come”. While this is related specifically to the Qld election, it is also relevant to Turnbull’s announcement that NEG will bring prices down but that modelling of this has not yet been completed. The indication that it may be revealed at the COAG meeting on 24 November will be too late to influence voters on the 25 November election.

The next session of Parliament starts in the last week of November and is scheduled to finish in the first week of December. Turnbull will be looking for presents that may be difficult for Father Christmas to find.

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