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Government Defends Fiona Nash's Last-Minute Citizenship Announcement

The timeline of a senator learning about her U.K. dual citizenship.
Senator Fiona Nash during a Senate estimates hearing at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 29 May 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Fairfax Media
Senator Fiona Nash during a Senate estimates hearing at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 29 May 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Attorney-General George Brandis has defended the government's handling of Fiona Nash's U.K. citizenship fiasco, saying the Nationals deputy informed the parliament just minutes after receiving legal advice.

Nash has become the sixth politician, and third member of the Nationals party, to be embroiled in the current citizenship issues plaguing the federal parliament.

Under section 44 of the constitution, a person holding citizenship of a country other than Australia is disqualified from parliament, and Nash just this week learned that she inherited British citizenship from her Scottish father.

But while Nash is just the latest in the ever-growing stable of politicians being referred to the High Court over dual citizenship, the government has been lashed by Labor and sections of the media for how her citizenship was announced.

While Barnaby Joyce made a statement to parliament on Monday morning about his New Zealand citizenship, Nash's announcement came late in the Senate on Thursday night -- literally the last item of business before a two-week break.

In an estimates hearing on Friday, Brandis took Labor senator Murray Watt through the timeline in explanation of why Nash's announcement came so late, the timing of which was seen as suspicious by many. Brandis said the Government was "made aware" of advice from the British home office on Monday evening -- just hours after Joyce's own announcement -- that Nash may be a dual citizen by descent.

Over the next few days, the Government sought urgent legal advice from the Commonwealth Solicitor-General and British citizenship lawyers, the final piece of which was only received on Thursday afternoon.

"The Solicitor-General's was received by my office at 5pm last night," Brandis said, adding that he and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull read the legal advice at 6.15pm.

"The Prime Minister immediately convened a meeting of the governance sub-committee of cabinet... The committee resolved the matter should be referred to the Court of Disputed Returns," Brandis said.

"The Prime Minister asked Senator Nash to come and see him. She arrived a few minutes later. She was acquainted with the conclusion of advice and the decision was made in discussion between the Prime Minister, me, Senator Nash and our senior staff that it was desirable that the matter of Senator Nash's citizenship should be made public as soon as possible."

"We decided between 6.30 and 6.50 that Nash should go into the Senate immediately to tell the parliament what the position was, and a brief statement was drafted.

"She went into senate and made statement to senate at 7.05pm. The statement to senate was made 50 minutes after the Prime Minister and I first saw the solicitor-general's legal advice."

Nash joins Nationals colleagues Joyce and Matt Canavan, as well as One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, and former Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters in being referred to the High Court over dual citizenship matters.

Brandis said the Government would stand by Nash, repeating advice they had received from the solicitor-general in relation to Joyce and Canavan that -- while they technically held dual citizenship -- that they would not be disqualified from serving in parliament.

"I can tell the committee it was the clear conclusion that in view of particular facts of case, Senator Nash was not disqualified under section 44," Brandis said, adding the Solicitor-General had expressed a "clear view" that Nash would not be struck out.

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