MELINDA JAMES: It is 22-minutes to 8.00am here on 97.3 ABC Illawarra. Well, the Federal Labor Party and now the unions are saying that they are considering launching legal challenges against 100 or so decisions that were made by Ministers Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash after the High Court ruled that they did in fact hold dual citizenship and as such were not eligible to be in Parliament in the first place. I am joined now by Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Senator, good morning.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Good morning Melinda.
MELINDA JAMES: Look, I’m… you know a lot of people with, I guess, great retrospective vision could have seen that the High Court might have ruled in this way, was it the wrong decision to allow Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash to stay as Ministers?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, a couple of things if I may say that the Government took advice. It took the advice of the Solicitor General. As the Attorney said yesterday, this was not the result that we had hoped for and it was not the result that we expected. The view of the Solicitor General was that we had, in the words of the Attorney, ‘the better side’ of the argument, but as a lawyer and as a practicing lawyer of many, many years standing, we asked the High Court to take a particular approach, they took a different approach and I think now it’s important that we do move on on this issue. It is a complex decision and the Government of course is seeking advice on the implication of this 67 page judgement. It is complex and so therefore its consequences need to be carefully worked through. And this is one of the reasons why the Government is referring the matter to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, Melinda, so that that committee, which generally examines electoral issues after elections, can consider whether there need to be changes or whether it believes changes to section 44 of the Constitution need to be recommended: things like how can the electoral laws and practices be changed so as to minimise the risk of breach. I mean, we do live in a multicultural society …
MELINDA JAMES: Yeah, do you think there need to be changes in that regard, because I know it’s something that’s close to your heart and you’re very involved in some of the changes to citizenship laws that were not eventually passed by the Senate, but do you think there need to be changes given that a huge proportion of Australians actually do hold dual citizenship?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: We do, we do and indeed almost half of us were either born overseas or have a least one parent born overseas and then if you take the figure of both of Australians with both parents born overseas, you really do have a very high figure. So, I think in our multicultural society, we’ve had 7.5 million people who have been, who are migrants, who have come to Australia since World War II. So therefore we do want a situation that all Australians can confidently stand for and serve in our Parliament. This can have potentially far-reaching consequences and so therefore it really is important that this is examined. I myself, as everyone knows, have Italian heritage and indeed I renounced my Italian citizenship in 1994. So, I do understand the complexities of these issues and therefore I think that at this point in time an examination by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will be important as a next process.
MELINDA JAMES: Yeah, you said it’s time to move on, but that’s unlikely to happen, isn’t it, when you’ve got Labor already saying we’ve obtained some legal advice which says that the decisions that were made by Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash are now open to challenge, possibly more than 100 of them. I know George Brandis has said this is just Labor playing political games, but it’s not really, is it, when we’ve seen that the High Court is very keen to pretty much stick with the letter of the law on these issues. How can their decisions, that were made as Ministers, be valid when they were found to of actually be ineligible to stand for Parliament in the first place?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, look I think that you need to look at decisions and the decision making process. I mean let’s not forget that there are decisions, the decisions that are made by the Cabinet are made on the recommendation of Ministers. Now, I appreciate that the Labor Party do want to make mischief. There will be lots of history that will need to be looked at as far as this is concerned and perhaps, you know, we can go back in history and look at other circumstances where different Governments of different persuasions have had difficulties and therefore potentially the issue one side or the other could have taken this sort of stance, but I don’t think that there are many decisions of Barnaby Joyce that could be affected. Decisions that are made by Ministers in Cabinet are made as part of the Cabinet on recommendations of Ministers and as the Attorney was saying yesterday, recommendations …
MELINDA JAMES: That’s picking and choosing a little bit isn’t it though when we decide that the buck’s stops with the Minister. That’s kind of deciding that it stops with the Minister in cases where it suits us really.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, the bottom line is that that’s our Cabinet process. That’s the processes that do happen. The Cabinet makes decisions. They are decisions of the Cabinet’s whether they’re appointments, and then they are referred to the Federal Executive Council and consideration by the Governor General. The recommendations by Ministers are not decisions in any case, that they’re even reviewable. So, I really don’t see where the problem is and indeed I think that as the Attorney has said, this is simply mischief making by the Labor Party.
MELINDA JAMES: Now Senator, we’ve very keen to talk to you about the future of Port Kembla as a port in particular given some of the issues that have been raised recently. So, I’d love to chat to you when we’re in the news and we’ll be able to play that interview for people later, but just before we do bump into the news, there were reports that if Fiona Nash and Matthew Canavan were found to be disqualified- Matthew Canavan of course was not and is allowed to remain, but maybe it would have some implication for your term as a Senator. You are currently serving a 3-year term, does it have any implications for you?
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, Senator Fiona Nash of course has been ruled to be ineligible, so she is effectively out of the Senate and with Senators, of course there is no by-election. There is a recount of the ballot papers, so at this point the High Court has made its decision, it has …
MELINDA JAMES: I’m sorry we’re about to bump into the news, but those things are yet to be worked out.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Basically we’re just waiting to hear back from the court now as to what the next process is.
MELINDA JAMES: Senator, thank you very much for your time this morning.
CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thanks a lot.
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