Frydenberg's Hungarian citizenship not yet ruled out

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(Caricature courtesy Bruce Keogh / keoghcartoons.com.au)

The Australian has ineptly asserted that a Hungarian ministerial letter verifies Frydenberg’s claim that he is not a dual citizen.

An article published by the media outlet (23 November) reveals the contents of a letter sent to Joshua Frydenberg by the Hungarian Prime Minister's Office.

The letter was authored by Gergely Gulyas, Minister of the Hungarian Prime Minister’s ­Office. The headline reads, 'Hungary rules out Treasurer Josh Frydenberg as citizen'.

According to The Australian, the letter is reported to state:

'I can confirm that the Hungarian citizenship of the Hon. Joshua Frydenberg MP is not established' the official Hungarian letter said.


'In addition, following a search of all relevant Hungarian records where Hungarian citizenship is expected to be or is required to be recorded: no record listing you as a Hungarian citizen has been identified. No record which came into existence after her departure from Hungary in 1949 listing Erica Frydenberg (nee Erika Strausz or Erika Strauss) as a Hungarian citizen has been identified.'

A judicious reading of the letter, in fact, conveys that:

  • Joshua Frydenberg is not listed as a citizen of Hungary. This is a sound finding given Frydenberg was born in Australia, is an Australian citizen and has seemingly not sought to invoke his Hungarian citizenship rights.
  • While there are supposedly no records of Erica Frydenberg after her departure from Hungary in 1949, the letter implies that there are records listing her as a Hungarian citizen prior to her departure from Hungary in 1949 — and possibly including those relating to the departure. 

The letter also divulges by omission that Minister Gulyas has no knowledge of Frydenberg’s mother having ever lost or been deprived of her Hungarian citizenship, gained upon her birth in 1943.

If Minister Gulyas had located evidence that Erica Frydenberg had lost her Hungarian citizenship, it is likely he would have stated so in his letter. In the context of the current High Court case, the ministerial letter to Frydenberg is enlightening in unintended ways but should be viewed as a blatant political response and not a legal certification of Frydenberg’s citizenship status.

In fact, Minister Gulyas had no authority under 'Act LV of 1993 on Hungarian Citizenship' to establish Frydenberg’s or his mother’s citizenship status, as this can only be achieved through the issuance of a certificate by the Department of Citizenship and Native Registry of the Government Office of the Capital City Budapest, applied for through an official process specified on Hungarian Embassy websites.

The Act provides:

Section 11 (1) At the request of the person concerned, the body in charge of naturalization and nationality matters shall issue a certificate of citizenship to certify the existence or termination of Hungarian citizenship, or the fact that the person indicated in the certificate is not a Hungarian citizen.  

In accordance with the legislation, the Hungarian Embassy (Canberra) advises that a "Verification of Hungarian Citizenship with Certificate”is required to verify ‘the fact that the person indicated in the certificate is not a Hungarian citizen'.

Again, the letter from Minister Gulyas should be given no legal credence for determining the Hungarian citizenship status of Joshua Frydenberg or his mother.

In April 2019, Frydenberg claimed that his mother had lost her Hungarian citizenship in 1948 and therefore he could not be a Hungarian citizen by descent, as the family had become stateless. Previously, he had conflated events of the Holocaust during WWII that ended in 1945 with the family becoming stateless. Statutory declarations sworn by Frydenberg’s grandfather in the 1950s – recently located in National Archives of Australia – reveal that the family had left Hungary as late as September 1949 and that Erica Frydenberg remained a Hungarian citizen after settling in Australia in 1951.

The crux of the case against Frydenberg is, what is the purported Hungarian law or Ministerial decree which caused his mother to lose her Hungarian citizenship? Frydenberg is yet to produce the law or decree, and therefore it is likely he is a dual citizen.

Resolution for High Court Case

The High Court proceeding commenced by Michael Staindl against Frydenberg on 30 July 2019 has hardly progressed to date, with Justice Michelle Gordon stating during a procedural hearing:

“There are real issues here and I don’t want there to be any misunderstanding ... I want them to be resolved and resolved ASAP.”

Regardless, the most efficient and productive step for progressing the case is for the parties, pursuant to an Order of the High Court by consent, to now jointly or independently apply for a Verification of Hungarian Citizenship Certificate. This was initially recommended in the conclusion of 'Legal Opinion: Frydenberg Case', published prior to the filing of the petition by Staindl. Now is the time, given the controversial nature of the Gulyas letter.

The application form for such certificate can be uploaded from the Canberra Hungarian Embassy website under forms. As there is no English version of the form on the site, a translated version can be uploaded from the Ottawa Hungarian Embassy site.


It is imperative that the parties request that the certificate includes written reasons for certifying why Joshua Frydenberg is or is not a Hungarian citizen by descent. As well, details should be requested as to what Hungarian law applied to Erica Frydenberg to cause her to lose her Hungarian citizenship — whether in 1948 as claimed by Frydenberg in his updated 2019 AEC Checklist Declaration or at any other time, if that is the case. 

The certificate and formal reasons provided by the Hungarian Registry may then be filed in the High Court by the parties – with each party presenting lay and/or expert legal opinions on the certification – and with the High Court to finally make its decision as to whether Frydenberg is a dual citizen in contravention of Section 44 of the Constitution of Australia.

For the information of the lawyers and Staindl and Frydenberg, the Hungarian Embassy website states:

  • a citizenship certificate containing further information is also available on request if any foreign authority asks to confirm when and how the applicant acquired the Hungarian citizenship, or whether the applicant was a Hungarian citizen at a specific date or time period.
  • the certificate may be used in any proceedings before a Hungarian or foreign authority in which the citizenship status must be verified by a citizenship certificate.
  • an application for verifying the citizenship of another person may be submitted by an applicant who justifies his/her legitimate interest in this regard.

Publication of the two letters

Contrary to the opinion of The Australian, the letters simply amount to more obfuscation that has characterised Frydenberg’s accounts of his citizenship status, since the 2017 Section 44 dual citizenship crises that caught out a number of parliamentarians.

News Corp appears to be the only media organisation to have accessed copies of the Frydenberg letter to Minister Gergely Gulyas in Budapest, and the Hungarian Minister’s reply. Presumably, someone from Frydenberg’s office released the letter to News Corp. It is yet to publish copies of the two letters. In the public interest and for the sake of journalistic accountability, it ought to now do so.

Trevor Poulton is a lawyer, author of 'The Holocaust Denier' and 'Brick Through The Window (Poems from the 1990s)', a champion for environmental causes, and has been a member of the Labor Party for 26 years.

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