Senator Derryn Hinch in Parliament House Canberra on Tuesday 20 June 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares Crossbench senator Derryn Hinch has become the latest potential victim of a worsening citizenship saga after admitting he has links to the United States that could disqualify him.
Senator Hinch has admitted he still holds a social security card from when he lived in New York that could mean he is ineligible to sit in the Senate.
Speaking to media from north Queensland shortly before boarding a flight to Victoria, Senator Hinch said he planned to refer himself to the High Court when Parliament resumed on Monday to clear up the issue, making him the eighth MP to do so.
But others within the government have questioned whether the referral would be accepted, given Senator Hinch does not hold and has never held United States citizenship, or even a green card, and social security numbers are issued as a matter of course without any attached citizenship benefits.
In a statement to Fairfax Media late on Wednesday, Senator Hinch said he had never held a US citizenship and planned to raise the issue with the Solicitor-General.
Section 44 of the constitution disqualifies dual nationals, and those “entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power”, from standing for parliament.
“I paid a special social security tax for 10 years, on top of regular income tax, which makes me entitled to a pension,” Senator Hinch said.
“I did write to the US Social Security Department instructing them not to pay that pension because I was now a senator.
“It stays with you [the social security number], citizen or not, until you die. I still fervently believe that the Senate next week should again vote on referring each and every Member of Parliament to an independent auditor – preferably through the legal and constitutional affairs committee.”
Senator Hinch said his social security card stemmed back to his time working as a journalist for Fairfax in the US in the 1960s and early 1970s.
“I probably have read section 44 more times than anybody checking out eligibility on issues like prison sentences, bankruptcy and dual citizenship, and ticked all boxes,” he said. “That is why I made sure I had revoked my New Zealand citizenship before nominating for last year’s federal election.”
Another five members of parliament, including Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, face a High Court test in October of their eligibility to serve as MPs.
An additional two MPs, including cabinet minister Fiona Nash, are set to be referred to the court by parliament next week.
One of Australia’s leading constitutional experts has predicted that the Turnbull government is heading for a doomsday scenario in which its constitutionally controversial MPs are struck from Parliament, and its postal survey on same-sex marriage is declared invalid.
In a pessimistic address at the National Press Club on Wednesday, UNSW Dean of Law George Williams predicted the High Court would take a stern view of the seven MPs facing an eligibility probe because they were citizens of other countries.
He dismissed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s confidence in the outcome as “misplaced”, including the PM’s prediction that Mr Joyce would be cleared by the court.
“Joyce may survive the High Court challenge, but personally I would be surprised if he does so,” Professor Williams said. “It is difficult to see, if the current law is applied, that any of the seven parliamentarians who will face the High Court are likely to survive that challenge.”
That is because it was unclear what “reasonable steps” the MPs had taken to ensure they met the requirements, he said, unless the court decided to take a more liberal view of the law. But it was “hard to see why the High Court would fashion an exemption”, he said.
with Michael Koziol, AAP
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