High Court Decision

Published on Wed 9 May 2018 12:50pm

Mr Wilson (12:50pm) — On indulgence, the High Court’s decision in the case of Katy Gallagher has changed the way the law is understood and interpreted in relation to eligibility under section 44 of the Constitution. Until today’s decision, the ‘reasonable steps’ test had been accepted for more than 25 years in this country.

It continues to be the basis of the Australian Electoral Commission’s advice to candidates in the current candidate’s handbook, and it was the guidance I followed when I nominated in 2016. The new interpretation of the law means the question of whether a person took all reasonable steps to renounce foreign citizenship simply doesn’t exist, at least for dual Australian-British citizens. Irrespective of any administrative delay in the process, which can be considerable, it is generally between two and four months. Under the new interpretation, any prospective candidate must have their British citizenship deregistered before the close of nominations. In my case, that was effectively impossible.

I was endorsed as a late replacement Labor candidate in Fremantle on 12 May 2016. I completed the requisite UK Home Office paperwork to renounce my British citizenship on that day. I mailed the renunciation form and attached documents the following day, Friday, the 13th—not particularly lucky, as it turned out—using express registered post. I received confirmation that the documents had been received by the UK Home Office on Monday, 16 May, and the processing fee for renunciation was withdrawn from my bank on 6 June. On that basis, I nominated the following day, two days before the close of nominations. I received a letter from the UK Home Office subsequently, dated 24 June, saying that my British citizenship had been deregistered, with a copy of the renunciation form stamped on 29 June. I was elected on 2 July 2016 as the member for Fremantle.

This has been a difficult process. The people in my electorate have been good humoured about it. I attended a number of end-of-year functions. When we sang the Australian anthem and got to the bit where it said that we had boundless plains to share, there was an old Rotary representative next to me, and he clapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Lucky for you!’ I have not served a single day as the member for Fremantle and as a member of this place as anything other than an Australian citizen.

For what it’s worth, I was born in London when my parents were on a working holiday. My mum was expecting me when they left Australia to travel to the UK, and I returned home with them at the age of one after we’d travelled around Europe in a Kombi van for six months—as you do. Both my parents were born in Australia. My great, great grandfather came to Fremantle as a convict in the 1860s. He had 13 children; it’s a pretty big family tree. I think it’s right to say that he is Geoff Gallop’s great, great grandfather. I’ve never lived in the UK; I’ve only ever been there twice, in 1998 and 2012, for a few weeks each time. In any case, the High Court’s new interpretation of the law has changed, and I respect that ruling. That means I will be writing to you, Mr Speaker, to advise you of my resignation in due course, and I’ll prepare to contest the forthcoming by-election in Fremantle.

We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of the interpretation that’s been provided today; it will change the way the electoral system works in this country. For up to one-fifth of all Australian citizens who are or who may be entitled to citizenship of another country, it will mean that their ability to participate in federal elections will be significantly constrained. Any current dual British citizen who might think of contesting the by-elections that are about to occur would find that they are prevented from doing so under the current interpretation.

But, as I said in my first speech, I cannot imagine a more meaningful kind of work to do than to represent the community where I’ve lived virtually all my life. It’s an incredible privilege to serve in this place. It’s an incredible privilege to serve your community. It’s actually a privilege just to be a Labor candidate on the ballot paper in the community where you live, and every opportunity I’m given to ask the people of Fremantle to trust me with the responsibility of being their representative in the national parliament is an opportunity I relish. I was looking forward to doing it in the general election. I was looking forward to doing it as part of an election that would see the creation of the next Labor government. But I’m happy to do it in the next five or six weeks and, then, again. And I’m looking forward to once again seeking that trust and responsibility over those weeks. I’m happy to be considered by the voters in my community in the Fremantle electorate on the basis of my character, my principles, my work ethic and my record.

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