THE HERALD'S OPINION: More by-elections looming over citizenship.

DESPITE the “pro-settlement” rhetoric coming from both leaders beforehand, it came as little surprise that Wednesday’s crucial two-hour meeting between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten failed to broker a bipartisan way forward through the all-enveloping citizenship crisis.

Mr Turnbull wants to give parliamentarians 21 days in which to prove their eligibility to continue sitting, whereas Mr Shorten said after their meeting that these declarations could be collected within five days.

Realising a shortage of time in the House of Representatives to have the controversy wrapped up this year, Mr Turnbull has raised the possibility of recalling parliament in the lead-up to Christmas. Mr Shorten, in turn, objects to the proposal, predicted to cost $1 million for every extra sitting day.

On these points alone, it is apparent that political self-interest is still trumping the professed desire by both sides of politics to bring the citizenship saga to a close, in order to get back to the business of governing on behalf of all Australians.

Were the Coalition not in power on such a slim majority, it is doubtful that the citizenship saga would be gripping politics the way that it is. The loss of individual members would still be unusual political theatre, but it would not be demanding the attention it is right now.

In a letter to the Newcastle Herald on Thursday, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon says he has “zero sympathy” for any politician caught up in the citizenship saga. But question marks are still hanging over at least two MPs on his side – Justine Keay and Susan Lamb –  despite the robust preselection process that Labor has been priding itself on until now.

However the saga plays out from now, it would not surprise if further by-elections were to follow the New England poll that will almost certainly return Barnaby Joyce to parliament. To some, this ability of Mr Joyce to “rinse” himself clean and return to parliament is a sign that the entire controversy has been more about political opportunism than material substance. As we have previously noted, no-one is accusing any of the dual citizens of doing the bidding of another nation. Mr Turnbull must surely be wishing he had not been so harsh on what he said was the “incredible sloppiness” of the Greens at losing the two members that triggered this continuing landslide. Mea culpa indeed.

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