The citizenship fiasco has almost completely engulfed the Turnbull Government, with several Senators and one member of the House of Representatives being given the boot by the High Court, and one additional Senator, Stephen Parry, resigning subsequently. It is interesting to see the assorted defences being used by the various miscreants and their associates.
Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, used the Sergeant Schultz defence, also appropriately called the ‘idiot defence’. Sergeant Schultz was a character (played by John Banner) in the 1965-1971 sitcom ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ set in a German prisoner of war camp. His catchphrase, when something cropped up which was embarrassing, was “I know nothing”. This is the defence Barnaby Joyce used: “I didn’t know.” That didn’t alter the fact that he was a New Zealand citizen by descent, and he was correctly given the boot.
Senator Matt Canavan used the Shane Warne defence3. Shane Warne, former great Australian spin bowler, was caught using diuretics in contravention of rules regarding doping in sport. His excuse was that his Mum gave the diuretics to him. Similarly, Canavan stated that it was his mother who had signed him up for Italian citizenship. This proved not to be the case and he was not an Italian citizen, and was allowed to remain in the Senate4.
Malcolm Roberts, the wacky climate change denying One Nation Senator used the defence which now bears his name: the Malcolm Roberts defence. This is perhaps one of the most psychologically interesting (to be polite) defences. Basically, Roberts stated that he believed he was not a British citizen, therefore the High Court couldn’t disagree. Unfortunately for Roberts, believing something hard enough does not make it reality. The High Court did disagree with him5.
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has been all over the place like a dog’s breakfast. Initially, he began with the Malcolm Roberts defence, even stating in parliament that Barnaby Joyce would be allowed to stay and that the High Court they “will so hold’6. Then he used a passive variant of the Nuremberg defence (I was just following orders), when he reputedly asked an official in the Liberal Party, who assured him that no other dual citizens would be uncovered. Only a few hours later, Stephen Parry confessed to being a dual citizen. Even worse, he had told some colleagues some months ago of his suspicions, but they had neglected to tell the Attorney General or the Prime Minister. Turnbull was reportedly furious, as one would expect. After drifting for a while, Turnbull came up with a self-audit system which was ridiculous given that it relied on the honesty of politicians, surely as oxymoronic as the concept of an honest burglar.
After coming up with the self-audit, Turnbull discussed the length of time required (he gave them 21 days) with the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten. Shorten wanted to shorten the time frame (excuse pun)7, but his involvement allowed Turnbull to fall back on what is termed the Coalition defence: “It’s all Labor’s fault”.