An Australian government minister quit the Cabinet yesterday after his mother told him he might be Italian and therefore ineligible to be a politician.
Resources minister Matt Canavan’s shock announcement that the Italian government lists him as a citizen followed the resignations this month of two senators who discovered days apart that they had technically never been elected because there were dual citizens.
Australia’s constitution says a “citizen of a foreign power” is not eligible to be elected to parliament.
Mr Canavan said his mother contacted him last week with news that he might be Italian after publicity surrounding the resignations of the minor Greens party’s co-deputy leaders Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters. Mr Ludlam was born in New Zealand and Ms Waters was born in Canada, but they had not realised that they had retained the citizenship of those countries, which they had left as young children.
Mr Canavan’s predicament is embarrassing for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had ridiculed the Greens over their bungled screening of candidates and could force a Cabinet reshuffle.
It also amplifies calls for changes to a section of the constitution penned in the 19th century that has ousted four senators since the last election a year ago and threatens two other parliamentary careers.
Mr Turnbull said Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce would take on Mr Canavan’s ministerial responsibilities until his citizenship status was resolved.
Mr Canavan said his mother Maria Canavan applied to the Italian Consulate in Brisbane in 2006 to become an Italian citizen and “it would appear that she made an application for me to become an Italian citizen as well”. He was 25 years old and has never been to Italy.
“I’ve not been able to obtain definitive legal advice as to whether my registration as an Italian citizen without my knowledge or consent was valid under Italian law,” Mr Canavan said. “I am seeking to obtain that advice at present.”
Mr Canavan has resigned his portfolios but has not quit the Senate until the Italian citizenship is settled.
A parliamentary committee recommended in the 1990s a referendum to amend Section 40 of the constitution that stipulates vague and complex circumstances in which Australians are disqualified from sitting in parliament. But no referendum took place.
Attorney General George Brandis said his preliminary view was that the Italian citizenship gained without Mr Canavan’s consent did not breach the section, but the High Court would decide.