Citizenship saga continues to batter PM

The citizenship saga continues to batter the government, with another minister forced to deny his eligibility is under a cloud, a backbench MP openly questioning Malcolm Turnbull's leadership and the Coalition partners preparing to do battle over the Senate presidency.

Labor is ramping up the pressure on the Prime Minister to support its plan for "universal disclosure" of citizenship documents after Assistant Immigration Minister Alex Hawke became the latest MP to face questions over his status, based on his Greek heritage.

While Mr Hawke insists he is in the clear, the opposition says the government simply cannot be trusted in the wake of the Stephen Parry affair.

"Now that we know ministers were told about Stephen Parry's situation and covered it up, Australians simply can't take Turnbull's word for it when he says his MPs are fine," said Labor's Penny Wong.

"Turnbull either accepts Labor's proposal for universal disclosure or he refers MPs in doubt - including Alex Hawke and Julia Banks - to the High Court. The status quo is not acceptable."

The fiasco is also continuing to strain ties between the Liberals and the Nationals amid jockeying to replace Mr Parry in the plum $355,000-a-year job as Senate president.

The Nationals senator vying for the position - John "Wacka" Williams - has lashed out at the Liberal "cowards" and "bastards" who spent weeks anonymously criticising the Nationals in the media after Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash fell foul of section 44.

"I'll tell you what pisses me off. Those 'senior Liberals' or 'Liberal backbenchers' who got stuck into us over dual citizenship. Well next thing you know: there goes Stephen Parry," Senator Williams told Fairfax Media. "You bloody cowards. Put your name to it you bastards."

This sentiment is shared by many in the Nationals, who are seething over Senator Parry's failure to refer himself to the High Court earlier and are in no mood to compromise with the Liberals over who should replace him. There is also a view that the only Liberal to so far officially put his hand up for the job - veteran Queensland senator Ian Macdonald - is too divisive and ill-suited for the job.

If the Liberals were to nominate Senator Macdonald over someone less controversial like Liberal senators David Bushby or David Fawcett, Labor and the Greens could side with the Nationals to install Senator Williams instead, in what would be another embarrassment for Mr Turnbull.

While the job has always gone to a Liberal in the past, Senator Williams believes the Nationals have a strong claim to it this time: "If the Nats are one-sixth of the Coalition in the Senate, then one-sixth of the time in government the Nats should have the president of the Senate."

Another theory that has been floated would see Special Minister of State Scott Ryan given the job, potentially making room in the ministry for another National.

Cracks are also starting to appear within the Liberals, with former minister Kevin Andrews openly questioning Mr Turnbull's approach to the citizenship crisis.

"It's unsustainable to do nothing," the Victorian MP said. "The issue is out there and running and it's not going to go away until it's resolved."

When asked if he had confidence in Mr Turnbull, Mr Andrews replied: "There is a deep frustration in the community about what people see as inadequate leadership at the present time".

Mr Andrews, an ally of Tony Abbott, has been an outspoken backbencher since he was demoted from cabinet by Mr Turnbull in 2015.

Other Liberal MPs were quick to dismiss his remarks. One senior MP said there was no appetite to change leaders, with only a small group, including people like Mr Andrews and Tony Abbott who wanted to create trouble.

Another outspoken backbencher, Craig Kelly, also played down the criticism, saying the government could not be expected to make "hard decisions" and be popular at the same time.

"The Prime Minister has my full support, however there will always be different opinions on different issues and we can't expect everyone will agree 100 per cent with every decision," he said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann brushed aside suggestions Mr Turnbull could be replaced by deputy Liberal leader, Julie Bishop.

The Coalition has long been suffering in opinion polls under Mr Turnbull. According to the most recent Newspoll, released last Monday, the Coalition trails Labor, 46 to 54 per cent. This was 22nd Newspoll in a row that had the government in an election-losing position.

While the citizenship saga shows no signs of disappearing, Fairfax Media understands the government is not worried about Mr Hawke's status, with sources saying he has been checked multiple times by the Liberal Party.

"I was born in Wollongong, have lived my whole life in Australia and have only ever solely held Australian citizenship. I am an Australian citizen only and have never held or acquired or sought Greek or any other citizenship," Mr Hawke said.

According to information on the Greek Embassy's website, "a person acquires Greek nationality at the time of birth, if he/she is born to a parent of Greek nationality". However, descendants need to register for citizenship.

This story Citizenship saga continues to batter PM first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.