High Court finds Labor Senator Katy Gallagher ineligible because of dual citizenship

By @chelean on
Katy Gallagher, senator for the Australian Capital Territory
Katy Gallagher, senator for the Australian Capital Territory ACT Government, Creative Commons

Another politician has fallen into the dual citizenship trap. Labor Senator Katy Gallagher was ruled ineligible for her position by the High Court on Wednesday.

Gallagher holds dual citizenship of Australian and British. According to court, she is ineligible to sit in Parliament because she failed to renounce her British citizenship before the 2016 election. She is a British citizen by descent through her father.

The senator previously maintained that she should not be disqualified under section 44 of the Australian Constitution, which disqualifies dual citizens from Parliament, because she took all reasonable steps to renounce her UK citizenship before the closure of nominations for the 2016 poll. UK Home Office, however, asked for further documents and did not register her renunciation until a month after the election.

The High Court disagreed. The issue was whether someone who has begun their renunciation process would be eligible for Parliament position even if the process hasn’t completed at the time of their nomination.

Gallagher said she took “all steps reasonably required,” but the High Court determined that that was only a defence if foreign law “irremediably prevents” the person from renouncing their citizenship. The five justices all concurred that there was no such irremediable impediment for Gallagher.

“I have spent the last 17 years of my life representing the people of the Australian Capital Territory, firstly in the ACT Legislative Assembly and more recently in the Senate,” Gallagher said in a statement. “It has been an absolute honour to hold elected offices.”

Her position would most likely be filled by David Smith, Labor’s ACT Senate ticket in 2016. She continued, “To the people of the ACT, I’m very sorry that this disruption has occurred to one of your federal representatives. To have my place in the Senate end like this today is very deeply disappointing, but I believe that I have more to contribute to public life and I will take the time to talk with Labor Party members on how I can do this over the months ahead.”

Her disqualification opens the possibility of the same outcome for three Labor MPs and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie. The Labor MPs — Josh Wilson (Fremantle, WA), Justine Keay (Braddon, TAS) and Susan Lamb (Longman, QLD) — and Sharkie all have relied on the same defence.

Save for Lamb, who remains a dual citizen because the UK home office wouldn’t process her application without her parents’ birth certificate, all have successfully defended their Parliament position. But now that Gallagher has been decided a dual citizen, it could lead to their status being questioned once more as well.