LABOR is preparing for a costly and disruptive run of up to four by-elections after the High Court rules on the constitutional status of shadow minister Katy Gallagher.
The critical ruling, which could start a round of campaigning following the May Budget, is expected after the Easter break.
Pessimistic legal advice to party chiefs points to Senator Gallagher being forced out on the grounds of dual citizenship, and a flow-on to others in “different-but-similar” circumstances.
The possible additional casualties could include Labor’s Susan Lamb in the Queensland seat of Longman, Justine Keay in the Tasmanian seat of Braddon, Josh Wilson in the West Australian seat of Fremantle, and the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie in the South Australian seat of Mayo.
The Liberals would have strong hopes of regaining Longman and Mayo and Braddon.
And the by-elections could be portrayed as mini plebiscites on the Government and Labor’s competing tax policies.
Senator Gallagher is in danger of becoming the seventh senator removed from Parliament by the dual citizenship bar in the Constitution since the last election. Another senator left over a separate constitutional breach related to bankruptcy.
At issue in her case is the requirement that candidates at the July 2, 2016 election should have cleared up any dual citizenship problems by June 9 that year, or have taken “reasonable steps” to do so.
Labor fears Senator Gallagher, a former ACT Chief Minister, did not meet the “reasonable steps” standards in shedding British citizenship inherited from her parents.
Her mother was born in Ecuador to British parents and her father was born in the United Kingdom although the senator was born in Australia in 1970.
Unbeknown to her, at the time of her birth Senator Gallagher had acquired citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies by descent.
She has produced documents to the court showing she lodged an application to renounce her British citizenship with the UK Home Office before the 2016 election, but did not receive confirmation of the renunciation until August 16, two months after nominations closed.
If those moves were not enough to save her, there is a big chance the other MPs also will fail the test.
The High Court started considering the Gallagher matter two weeks ago. It has to rule on whether Senator Gallagher can continue as an ACT senator and if not how she should be replaced.
Senator Gallagher replaced Labor’s Kate Lundy in March, 2015 and contested the 2016 election.
Expert testimony has clashed, the High Court has noted: “The essential difference between the experts is as to whether the (British) Home Office was obliged (and could have been compelled by mandatory order) to register the Declaration of Renunciation based on the documents sent by Senator Gallagher on 20 April 2016 without asking for further documents, or whether the Home Office was entitled to seek further evidence from Senator Gallagher and was therefore not obliged to, and could not have been compelled to, register her renunciation before that evidence was provided.”