Braddon Labor MHR Justine Keay 'a law unto herself': Brendan Gogarty

Justine Keay MP
Justine Keay MP

Tasmania’s preeminent constitutional law expert says Braddon Labor MHR Justine Keay risks becoming “a law unto herself” if she does not submit to the High Court over her citizenship issues.

Brendan Gogarty’s comments come after Ms Keay tabled documents in Parliament relating to the renunciation of her British citizenship.

Ms Keay sent a letter to the British Home Office on May 9, 2016, seeking to renounce her citizenship.

But it was not officially renounced until July 11, one month after nominations for the 2016 federal election had closed.

This would suggest Ms Keay is ineligible to sit in the Parliament, as she was a dual national when she nominated, breaching section 44 of the Australian Constitution.

Ms Keay has relied on subsection 44(i) of the Constitution, which dictates that one must take “reasonable steps” to renounce one’s citizenship in order to serve in the Federal Parliament.

Moreover, the Braddon MHR has received legal advice to that effect.

Ms Keay was facing renewed pressure to refer herself to the High Court after Labor Senator Katy Gallagher did so under circumstances similar to Ms Keay’s.

But she will not be appearing in the High Court any time soon, after Leader of Government Business Christopher Pyne announced on Wednesday that the government had decided not to refer any further parliamentarians until Senator Gallagher’s matter was resolved.

Ms Keay has said sending the voters of Braddon to a by-election would be “a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

Dr Gogarty disagreed.

“The costs of this I don’t think are justification for not accepting the rule of the court,” he said.

“I think if there’s a significant question about your eligibility, then you need to resolve this – in part, to ensure public trust and confidence in our democratic process. 

“If you have a public who can’t be assured of that, then everything sort of starts to unravel. And I think that’s a much bigger cost.”

Seven parliamentarians have been referred to the High Court for citizenship matters in 2017, with only two  being ruled eligible to sit in the Parliament.

Since then, another four parliamentarians have resigned due to citizenship concerns.

“If [Ms Keay] really is insistent that she is somehow different from everyone else who’s gone before the court then maybe she should go before the court to plead her case,” Dr Gogarty said. 

“You can’t just say, ‘I’ve done the best I can to comply with the law and that’s enough. It’s up to me to decide that’. Because that’s not how the law works.

“If every person gets to interpret the law, they become a law unto themselves.”

On Wednesday, Ms Keay said the issue of whether or not she is referred to the High Court was “a matter for the Parliament to decide”.

“The people of Braddon know the facts. They know I was validly elected. And they know my focus is on them,” she said.