Labor’s candidate for the hotly contested federal seat of Hughes in Sydney has withdrawn over section 44 citizenship concerns, leaving the ALP scrambling to find a replacement just days before the election is likely to be called.
Peter Tsambalas, a local teacher, was preselected unopposed by ALP branch members in January. But he had not been officially endorsed as he was waiting for notification from Greek authorities that he had officially renounced his Greek citizenship. He began the process in December 2021.
Despite being born in Australia and having Australian citizenship, Tsambalas acquired dual citizenship via his migrant parents.
This is sufficient to trigger section 44 of the constitution which says a person is ineligible to run for federal parliament if they are “under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power”.
“My team and I put every effort into resolving the citizenship question but it is clear we will not get there in time,” Tsambalas said on Thursday.
“I want to thank all those who have supported me to this point. We spent several months working hard on the campaign and I believe I would have taken the fight up well in Hughes.
"Tuttavia, I now look forward to giving whatever assistance I can to the successful Labor candidate in this important election.”
The seat of Hughes in Sydney’s south is currently held by former Liberal Craig Kelly with a 9.3% margine. Kelly resigned from the Liberal party over controversial views on Covid-19 and vaccination.
Usually, Hughes would be a safe seat for the Liberals, but Kelly’s decision to run for the United Australia party, combined with the turmoil among the Liberals over preselections, has made it highly unpredictable.
There are also two community independent candidates running – Georgia Steele and Linda Seymour.
Both sides of politics acknowledge that section 44 poses a significant impediment for candidates who come from a multicultural background. It often requires careful analysis of citizen laws of another country and applications to foreign governments to renounce any rights to citizenship.
tuttavia, changing section 44 would require a referendum and no steps have yet been taken to achieve that change.
In Wentworth, the independent candidate Allegra Spender has had to give up her Italian citizenship acquired via her late mother – the fashion designer Carla Zampatti.
She has publicly lamented it is one of the sacrifices she has had to make to run for parliament. A spokesperson for her campaign confirmed she was no longer an Italian citizen.
Tsambalas is the first casualty of section 44 in this election campaign but may not be the last.
Di sabato, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced nine candidates he had handpicked to run in seats in the May election. Many are from multicultural backgrounds.
A spokesperson for the NSW Liberals said the process was well underway to ensure their eligibility.
Section 44 triggered an eligibility crisis in federal parliament in 2017. Six senators and the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, were referred to the high court between August and September that year.
In ottobre 2017, the high court ruled that five were ineligible to be elected being dual citizens at the time of nomination. A novembre 2017, three more senators resigned after recognising their dual citizenship. Joyce and John Alexander returned to the lower house after rectifying their citizenship status and winning byelections.
The high court ruled that a candidate must take reasonable steps to renounce any dual citizenship.