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The crux of the Frydenberg case

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The dual citizenship case of Josh Frydenberg deepens as questions are raised about his mother's statelessness, writes Trevor Poulton.

THE CURRENT CONSTITUTIONAL dual-citizenship imbroglio is of Joshua Frydenberg’s making. He has refused to be accountable under Section 44(i) of the Constitution, other than to claim that his mother was “stateless” when she arrived in Australia.   

The material question to be addressed by the High Court in Joshua Frydenberg MP’s case is:  What Hungarian citizenship law or ministerial decree, or international law, or other law deprived Frydenberg’s mother of her Hungarian citizenship in 1948 such that Frydenberg is able to maintain that he does not hold Hungarian citizenship through his mother by descent?

A “stateless” person is not simply a refugee or displaced person or a migrant, but a person who is not considered as a national or a citizen by any state under the operation of its law.

Frydenberg has consistently maintained that his mother was made “stateless” prior to coming to Australia. According to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) Qualification Checklist declaration signed by Joshua Frydenberg on 14 April 2019 for the seat of Kooyong, his mother and maternal grandparents lost their Hungarian citizenships in 1948. 

However, at a press conference on 3 November 2017, the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull claimed that Josh Frydenberg's mother was born in 1943 and that she wasn’t a Hungarian citizen when she was born and that her parents had been stripped of their citizenship by the wartime Hungarian Government. Strangely, Joshua Frydenberg never acted to correct the false claim until he provided the alternative date of 1948 in the 2019 AEC declaration.

Further, on 10 December 2017, the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus appeared on ABC Insiders to be interviewed by Barrie Cassidy where he stated:

“I'm very much hoping that [Joshua Frydenberg] can demonstrate, by just giving some of the material facts, or releasing the legal advice, that he's got nothing to be concerned about. But at the moment, his [parliamentary] disclosure statement says nothing… It says that he's got legal advice but he doesn't say what it says.”

Frydenberg’s response in the media to the Shadow Attorney-General was:

“He should look himself in the mirror and ask him whether he thinks he was doing the right thing.”

Joshua Frydenberg’s attempt to define “stateless” has only ever been to conflate events of WW2 that ended in 1945 with the family residing in Hungary in 1948.

The topical issue concerning the family being in possession of a valid passport upon arrival in Sydney Harbour in 1950 legitimately raises an evidential question about the claim of statelessness, but it is certainly not the crux of this case. 

Frydenberg has also failed or neglected to formally obtain an issuance of a certificate of verification of his citizenship status (including reasons) from the Hungarian Ministry of Interior Affairs and, as such, he has not made reasonable effort to satisfy himself or the court that he is not a Hungarian citizen by descent.

The petitioner in the case, Mr Staindl, has publicly stated, “If Frydenberg shows evidence he is not Hungarian,” he could drop the case. 

This case is not complex. The onus will now be on Joshua Frydenberg MP to produce to the High Court the specific citizenship law or decree that purportedly deprived his mother of her Hungarian citizenship. If he cannot produce the law or decree, he will be deemed to be ineligible to sit in the Parliament and a new election will be called for Kooyong.

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

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