Australia’s ruling coalition has egg on its face after one of its own was caught in a dual nationality scandal. Matt Canavan’s mother secretly signed him up for Italian citizenship, making him ineligible.
Australian Resources Minister Matt Canavan stepped down on Tuesday after his mother revealed that he might also hold Italian citizenship.
It was an embarrassing revelation for the ruling coalition, who had sunk the boot into the Greens Party when their two deputies were forced to step down about a week ago for inadvertently holding foreign citizenship.
Australian law prohibits lawmakers from holding citizenship of a “foreign power” including fellow Commonwealth states, even on a dual-nationality basis. The rule is seen by many as arcane considering that it precludes a quarter of the nation from joining parliament.
Greens Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters resigned in quick succession after the bombshell announcements that one held New Zealand citizenship and the other Canadian citizenship.
Read more: Australian Parliament rocked by twin resignations over dual citizenship
Egg on Turnbull’s face
At the time Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined the pack of conservative frontbenchers savaging Australia’s third-largest party, with Turnbull calling it “incredible sloppiness.”
Senator Barnaby Joyce, who used to be Canavan’s boss, said after the Greens’ resignations that “everybody should check when they become a member of Parliament. That’s section 44 of the constitution. People know what it’s about. They should check,” as quoted by Fairfax Media.
Human Services Minister Alan Tudge was quoted by Fairfax at the time saying: “Greens pretend to be a serious party but if a party does not understand the constitution, then what sort of party are they?”
The Greens revelations led to an outpouring of smug politicians insisting they had relinquished any foreign citizenship, with former Prime Minister Tony Abbott going as far to upload a letter to prove he had given up British nationality.
Blame it on mum
So it was with some embarrassment that Canavan revealed that his mother had signed him up for Italian citizenship at the ripe age of 25.
“Until last week I had no suspicion that I could be an Italian citizen. I was not born in Italy and have never been to Italy,” the Queensland senator wrote.
“In the short time available I have not been able to obtain definitive legal advice as to whether my registration as an Italian citizen, without my knowledge or consent, was valid under Italian law. I am seeking to obtain that advice presently.”
Canavan said he would step down from his cabinet role but would remain in the Senate until he had definitive proof one way or the other.
Opposition Labor Party frontbencher Tony Burke was quoted by public broadcaster ABC as saying he did not think anyone could blame Senator Canavan given he had never been to Italy and had no way of knowing.
“I remember when Malcolm Turnbull was gloating – it was a bit vicious at the time – about the Greens making some of these errors,” he said. “I did have a thought, ‘we’ll be careful about going too hard at this point in time,’ and now that looks like exactly what’s happened to a very serious minister.”
After Canavan’s announcement, former Greens Senator Waters posted a Tweet saying she disagreed with him “on almost everything” but “my heart goes out to him, family and staff with dual citizen news.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said he would take over Canavan’s cabinet responsibilities while the High Court investigated the matter.
Attorney General George Brandis said that because Canavan was registered without his consent, he was probably still eligible.
It seems the ruling coalition dodged a bullet, given their victim of dual nationality was in the Senate where they have a comfortable majority, as opposed to the lower house, where they hold a majority of just one.