Malcolm Turnbull acts on citizenship, and the next stages could be explosive

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull addresses the media during a doorstop interview at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 6 November 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex EllinghausenIn the end, Malcolm Turnbull concluded that among the unpalatable options available to him in the dual citizenship crisis, doing nothing was the riskiest path of all.
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His government’s one-seat majority had begun falling apart, mid-term.

Defending the status quo was defending the indefensible. Worse, it was tantamount to a government siding with chaos and tumult when they exist to bring order, certainty, predictability.

Through no fault of his own, Turnbull found himself helming a show that, to paraphrase Douglas Adams in The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, was starting to resemble a military academy – “bits of it kept on passing out”.

And because of the ad hoc, headline-driven way this disintegration was occurring, the aura of helplessness suggested an administration overwhelmed by greater forces. Personally and politically, this was devastating.

When Turnbull arrived back into the country on Friday, his resentment over Stephen Parry’s craven post-High Court demise and fresh interest in the heritage of Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg – now one of Turnbull’s closest allies – obscured his capacity to discern and articulate the public reassurance needed politically.

That visceral anger had been human enough, but with public confidence draining fast, more was required.

The Greens had already restated their long-held calls for a full audit and Labor quickly dropped its ‘nothing-to-see-here’ line, proposing a “universal disclosure” – not an audit as such but a mechanism where all MPs showed their sole-citizen bona fides.

What Turnbull has now unveiled at least conforms to established parliamentary practices regarding financial interests. But in its core function, it is close to what Bill Shorten proposed.

It now seems most likely that the outcome, if it is not an audit, is a stocktake designed to establish who we have in the parliamentary stock, and if any should not be there.

But unknowns remain. Would those with citizenship problems resign automatically? How would non-compliant or doubtful cases be referred to the High Court, and would parties continue to deny cases on party lines? Would the government risk a working majority?

At best, this is progress – the beginning of the end of this citizenship controversy.

The next stages could be explosive. The worst case for Shorten is that he is still in opposition once it’s done. For Turnbull the risk has always been winding up in the same place. In opposition.

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