Terri Butler on Abbott's citizenship: Not gagged, just not interested

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The Labor MP who was sent a letter to Tony Abbott about his dual citizenship, Terri Butler, says the choice to do absolutely nothing to follow it up was hers alone. Ross Jones reports.

If you’ve been following the is he or isn’t he Tony Abbott dual nationality saga in the pages of IA, you will be familiar with the names Tony Magrathea and Terri Butler.

Tony is the guy who noticed there was no trace of Abbott’s Form RN renunciation of British citizenship anywhere and wondered: why not.

Terri Butler is the Queensland Labor MP who asked Abbott in writing to confirm all was above board.

Sadly, Terri and Tony have had a little falling out. Hopefully things can be smoothed over.

Of course, Terri Butler is not happy with IA either.

Here’s what happened,

On 16 May, Tony sent us an email saying, I can do no more. I will continue to ask on Twitter but I will only get abuse and ridicule for daring.

Tony attached a run-down of his actions to date and we reprinted part of this document in our story You’ve got to hand it to Abbott ...

The story wasn’t really about Terri Butler, but politicians are an edgy breed.

On 26 May, we emailed Butler asking if Abbott had responded to her letter. He hadn’t, but Terri had other things on her mind,


I saw this email Thursday and asked my office to let you know that I have not received a response from the Prime Minister.

I have since seen a blog post from you featuring a comment from Tony Magrathea.

I don't seem to have any record of your putting that comment to me for response before publishing it. Do you say you put it to me? If so, when?

After seeing the blog post I have posted the following to Tony Magrathea, on Facebook:

"Tony, what is this rubbish:

"Ms Terri Butler, member for Griffith wrote to Mr Abbott in January 2015 asking that he provide a copy of his renunciation papers, but there has been no reply yet.  Ms Butler’s office advised that she can no longer ask about this matter; her party has decided that the agenda is much more important. I could not get any indication of what that agenda is."

My exact words to you, in writing, were:

"Having made all of those observations, I’d say that I have many, many disagreements with the Prime Minister. I believe he’s wrong on just about every issue of public policy about which I’ve heard his views. I disagree with his government’s attacks on pensioners, students, families, working people, and households generally. I vehemently oppose his attacks on Medicare and on access to education, among many other things."

Ms Butler continued:

And in a subsequent email:

"I was up in Rocky yesterday, and someone raised this issue with me. I told her my view is that its best to run only your strongest arguments, because running your weak ones undermines your strong ones. I think our strongest arguments against Abbott are his policies and ideology, not his citizenship status."

I have made it quite clear to you in writing, and to the world at large on Twitter, why my priorities lay elsewhere than in pursuing the PM over this issue. 

It simply defies belief that the PM would not have renounced, if not before he entered parliament the first time, then at least once the High Court found the UK to be a foreign power. I find it incredibly hard to believe that he was not eligible for election in 2013.

Given I passed on your enquiry, and made my position very clear, I am extremely disappointed to see that my office has been verballed.

For future reference, "my party" hasn't made any decision about this issue as far as I know. If Tony's suggesting that my view (in regard to his claims about the PM) has been imposed on me, that is both condescending and wrong.

Terri Butler

Things went downhill from there.

My response:

Dear Terri,

Thank you for your kind response and for confirming the PM has not yet deigned to respond to your letter regarding his status under S44.

I note you refer disparagingly to Independent Australia as a blog. I would point out that IA enjoys Google news status and around 500,000 unique visits a month. It cannot be so easily dismissed. It pursues matters of national importance ignored or poorly reported by the MSM including the matters of Kathy Jackson and Peter Slipper, matters ignored by your party despite the plethora of evidence dropped directly in its lap.

As a news site, IA reported verbatim the quote from Mr Magrathea. We did not report any comment by you.

You say, 'It simply defies belief that the PM would not have renounced, if not before he entered parliament the first time, then at least once the High Court found the UK to be a foreign power' yet you have no evidence for this assertion. That you find something difficult to believe is irrelevant. 

Would you have believed it of Senator Abetz who failed to renounce his German citizenship until 2010? That was 11 years after Sue v Hill and it was a private citizen who raised the matter.

You might be aware Tony Abbott did not bother to apply for Australian citizenship until he was nearly 24. His mum made the application just in time for him to qualify for a Rhodes scholarship. I find it difficult to believe a person who felt Australian would let three years of his adulthood pass before becoming a citizen.

I don't care if you are disappointed and I assure you at no time has your office been verballed. If you are going to make such allegations back them up, don't hide behind 'disappointed'.

Given the evidence, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion enquiries are hidebound by a fear of News Ltd ridicule, but that is a matter for you and your party.

Ask yourself the simple questions - why won't Tony Abbott simply clear the air?  Why is what should be transparent hidden?

If you believe you have been misrepresented, IA invites your direct response in the comments section below the article. Alternatively, feel free to respond directly.

Kind Regards,

Ross Jones 

Sydney Bureau Chief

Independent Australia

Terri Butler then offered us an unsolicited tutorial in journalistic ethics:


You are mistaken. I did not intend disparagement by referring to your site as a blog. I have a high regard for bloggers.

If you claim to be a news site, you might consider complying with the journalists code of ethics: http://www.alliance.org.au/code-of-ethics.html. I draw your attention to paragraph 1, which, on the face of your email, you have admitted breaching.

You claim to assure me that my office had not been verballed. Yet you admit you merely repeated Tony Magrathea's words verbatim without taking any step to verify their accuracy. That being the case, you simply have no knowledge of whether he was verballing my office or not. You therefore have no basis on which to "assure" me that my office had not been verballed. 

You should feel most welcome to publish this email exchange verbatim. 

Terri Butler

Possibly feeling that Independent Australia had been "verballed", managing editor Dave Donovan stepped in:

Dear Terri,

Please do not refer to IA as a blog. We have worked too hard to get to where we are now to be so diminished by fellow progressives.

I am a MEAA member and IA abides by the MEAA Code of Ethics. You can read more about us here: https://independentaustralia.net/about.

I do not regard you as having being verballed in any way. In fact, by my reading, your response confirms Magrathea’s summation of your exchange and the tepid ALP approach to this issue.

This is a live issue, continually referred to us by ALP members. The public interest in the matter is precisely why we are pursuing it. IA non-partisan, but it would seem to us that belittling your members’ legitimate concerns is a fraught business for a party politician.

Nevertheless, I thank you for the fact you raised this issue with the Prime Minister — as half-heartedly and dismissively as it was.

We will continue to pursue this issue. And we will publish this exchange.



This did little to assuage Terri Butler, who continued to assert she had been verballed, as well as deigning to speak on behalf of the fifth estate:

Ross clearly ought to have put Tony Magrathea's assertion to me for comment before reporting it verbatim. He admitted to not doing so. Knowingly breaching the code of ethics is no better than inadvertently breaching it.

As I said, I did not mean to disparage or diminish your site by using the word "blog". I don't think the word "blog" is an insult and nor would most members of the fifth estate. But as you've obviously taken offence, I am happy not to use the term in connection with the site.

I have also not belittled anyone who thinks this is a serious issue. Disagreeing is not belittling. You haven't seen me on social media calling people birthers or conspiracy theorists. To the contrary, I have passed on Tony Magrathea's enquiry, notwithstanding my view as to the improbability of his claims. 

Terri Butler

There was more to this exchange, but the rest was taken off the record.

So, what was the fuss about?

Two issues:

  1. Terri Butler alleges Magrathea misquoted her office. She alleges Tony was not told she was under instruction from the party not to further raise the matter.
  2. Ms Butler alleges we (me) breached the MEAA Code of Ethics because we didn’t put ‘Tony Magrathea's assertion to me for comment before reporting it verbatim’.

The second first. We thought it was abundantly clear it was Magrathea’s assertion and we were reporting Magrathea’s email to us. A witness account in which Terri took up a few lines. Also mentioned were Wilke, Milne, Moore, McDonald, Cameron and Nash.

Of course, we can see Terri's point. It was a pretty big assertion and we are pleased to be able to set the record straight. Terri says she has not been gagged and we can only take her word for it.

IA would like to take this opportunity to remind all those mentioned in its pages that each article carries a widely-read and used comments section and we invite your immediate response via this medium.

Finally, If Labor Party MPs have not been told not to speak about this matter, then one can only wonder why. Because as Dave Donovan says, there is huge public interest in this matter, especially among Labor Party members. And Party that ignores or belittles the concerns of its members is taking a dire risk.

One can only wonder whether there is a more to Labor not pursuing this matter. Is it possible the ALP has some skeletons of its own? Some MPs who never renounced their other allegiances. You can be assured that this is something we will be following up in the coming weeks and months.

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