AS IF Malcolm Turnbull needed another problem to solve. When the PM touches down tonight, he’ll have to face a growing discontent from within.
The shock of the citizenship resignations from Parliament is opening Malcolm Turnbull to deliberate provocation from his Nationals partners and attacks from internal Liberal critics.
One staunch ally of former PM Tony Abbott today fuelled discontent by claiming voters wanted to “find a way back” to what he called “strong decisive leadership”.
Liberal Kevin Andrews said there had to be an audit of citizenship of all MPs and senators — a proposal rejected by Mr Turnbull — to prevent the issue “festering”.
Meanwhile, Labor is facing growing demands that at least two of its ranks — Queensland MP Susan Lamb and ACT senator Katy Gallagher — release documents they insist show they had renounced British citizenship before being elected.
The pressure is harming Labor efforts to confine the citizenship blow-ups to the government parties.
However, tensions are greater within the Coalition where the Nationals are furious the Prime Minister has so far declined to intervene in the NSW Liberal Party to ensure Fiona Nash gets back to the Senate.
Ms Nash, who had been Minister for Regional Development and Deputy Nationals Leader, was disqualified by the High Court because of British citizenship.
The order of candidates on the Coalition’s NSW Senate ticket last election means her place could be taken by Liberal Holly Hughes, and the Prime Minister has not publicly opposed that.
Nationals sources today told news.com.au the return of Ms Nash would do much to resolve problems in the federal Coalition.
In the meantime, the junior Coalition partner has taunted the Liberals, including a suggestion their NSW senator John “Wacka” Williams could replace Liberal Stephen Parry, who this week resigned as Senate President because of British citizenship.
The Liberals have always claimed ownership of the President’s job when in government and are unlikely to surrender it now. Nationals elder statesman Ian Sinclair was made Speaker of the House of Representatives for eight months as a salute to his long service, but that was a unique appointment.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has been distancing himself from Liberals during his campaign for the December 2 by-election in New England, and come out in support of his colleague’s bid for the presidency.
“I think most of the Australian people would say Wacka’s a straight shooter and he in the chair would be a great outcome for the Senate,” he said.
“And I think he’s somebody so many people relate to. So of course I’m going to back one of my own.”
The Nationals’ assertion of separateness in part comes from Liberal views the Nationals were incompetent because they didn’t check the citizenship of Mr Joyce and Ms Nash. That sense of superiority disappeared in the messy departure of Stephen Parry.
And Nationals sources today confirmed that whenever Coalition tensions rose, former prime minister Tony Abbott would make contact and express sympathy.
Andrews’ disagreement with the Prime Minister’s rejection of an official accounting of the citizenship of all in Parliament and linking the issue to the quality of Mr Turnbull’s leadership was a coded bid for Mr Abbott’s return.
“What we need is strong leadership. That’s what’s required, that’s what the Australian people are calling out for,” he told Sky News.
“I think the last decade of this [leadership] merry-go-round has been destructive. I had always thought that when Labor did it that we in the Liberal Party and the Coalition wouldn’t do it.