Labor will play hardball on PM's citizenship register

Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten will meet on Wednesday to nut out a solution to the dual citizenship "circus", consuming the government and the 45th Parliament.

But how willing are they really?

Both sides are hedging. Turnbull's pseudo-voluntary self declaration register for all MPs cannot be called an audit, but only for political reasons. He has repeatedly scoffed at the very idea of a parliamentary audit as preposterous, unworkable, unnecessary.

Sophistry, which is never too far away in political communication, dictates that if a humiliating retreat is unavoidable, it must come under another name. Thus, Turnbull parades the register as an honour system that is both comprehensive and declarative, while being distinct from an audit, which technically would be conducted by a third party.

It bespeaks some chutzpah, that in response to a succession of lawmakers displaying spectacular incompetence and/or dishonesty in matters of constitutional law, the Prime Minister talks of third party vetting as if it were automatically a bad thing.

Tell it to Centrelink recipients pursued through the courts for tiny amounts accidentally overpaid.

Besides, nobody was saying he had to bring in Korda-Mentha, but rather just take control, acknowledge the problem, and facilitate a credible Parliament-wide stocktake for eligibility.

Turnbull's model, despite its over-reliance on an MP's "beliefs" and "the best of their knowledge" regarding familial history, at least applies across both houses without exception.

Lawyers say it needs considerable tightening, with a far greater emphasis on establishing the facts regarding relevant foreign law pertaining to each case, and a clearer requirement to furnish documentary proof of conclusive efforts to first ascertain and then renounce past ties.

The 21-day grace period for MPs to gather their documentary proof that they weren't in breach of the constitution is also regarded as unnecessarily long, and risks tempting some candidates to leave all that palaver until after polling day, in the event they are elected.

Labor's each-way bet goes to presenting a sense of bipartisan goodwill in the bilateral talks, while preparing to extract significant, potentially deal-breaking concessions. These it can demand safe in the knowledge that if the talks fail, it is the Turnbull government that will lose.

It ain't over yet folks.

This story Labor will play hardball on PM's citizenship register first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.