PM’s slim majority under threat

SCOTT Morrison's two seat majority is under threat less than three months after the election, with both Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and a junior Liberal MP facing High Court challenges to their victories.

Mr Frydenberg, the deputy Liberal leader, is facing two separate challenges, including one over potential dual citizenship via his mother.

Lawyers for Michael Staindl, a constituent of Mr Frydenberg's in Kooyong, lodged documents in the High Court today claiming the Treasurer was not eligible to sit in Parliament because he was a citizen of Hungary.

It comes after Mr Frydenberg confirmed his mother, Erica Strausz, was a citizen of Hungary until 1948.

Rookie Liberal MP Gladys Liu... Picture: Kym Smith
Rookie Liberal MP Gladys Liu... Picture: Kym Smith

Mr Frydenberg has repeatedly rejected claims that he could hold dual citizenship given his mother arrived in Australia stateless at age seven after her family fled the Holocaust.

"I have clear legal advice that I do not hold citizenship of another country," he told News Corp today.

But under Hungarian law, children of Hungarian citizens automatically gain citizenship by descent and anyone born in Hungary between 1941 and 1945 has citizenship as part of the country's bid to address the stateless status of Jews who fled the Holocaust.

Mr Frydenberg and Liberal MP for Chisholm Gladys Liu are also facing another challenge over suspect Chinese language election posters that were used in their electorates on the day of the election.

... and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s victories are facing a legal challenge after election signs in the seat of Chisholm allegedly “deceived” voters. Picture: Kym Smith
... and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s victories are facing a legal challenge after election signs in the seat of Chisholm allegedly “deceived” voters. Picture: Kym Smith

Documents lodged in the High Court today claim the Liberal Party was responsible for "illegal conduct" by authorising the posters, which used the same white and purple colours as the Australian Electoral Commission's official signage.

The signage said in Chinese language: "The right way to vote on the green ballot paper - fill in 1 next to the candidate of the Liberal Party and fill in the numbers from smallest to largest in the rest of the boxes."

Lawyers representing independent candidate Oliver Yates, who ran against Mr Frydenberg in Kooyong, and a member of the public with no political affiliations Leslie Hall have started legal proceedings by lodging the documents today with the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.

On election day, the AEC said it would not take action because the signs were authorised, and there were no rules around colour schemes.

However, the Electoral Act says: "A person shall not ... print, publish or distribute, or cause, permit or authorise to be printed, published or distributed, any matter or thing that is likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote."

The election signage in question. Picture: ABC
The election signage in question. Picture: ABC

Mr Yates said today he was "surprised and disappointed" by the prevalence of "misleading and deceptive conduct" throughout the election.

"Elections in Australia should be contested with truthfulness, honesty, decency and respect for the voting public," he said.

Ms Hall, a retired social worker, said she had serious concerns about the erosion of democracy worldwide.

"I am concerned that the AEC allows deliberately misleading statements in a foreign language to be provided to people who may not have access to English and therefore to a full understanding of the electoral processes.

Sydney law firm Marque Lawyers managing partner Michael Bradley said neither client was motivated by political gain.

"Neither of our clients is motivated by politics in bringing their case forward, but by their belief that the slide towards anti-democratic and dishonest behaviour in our electoral process needs to be stopped before it gets even worse," he said.

"They also felt that they had to take this step because the AEC, which governs the Electoral Act, has refused to do anything about the conduct at all."

Scott Morrison holds a slim, two-seat majority in the lower house. Picture: AAP
Scott Morrison holds a slim, two-seat majority in the lower house. Picture: AAP

Mr Bradley added the law was "very narrow" in this matter as Australia did not have a guarantee of truth in political advertising.

"However, even on the narrowest interpretation of the Electoral Act's provisions, we believe that the Liberal Party went too far in Kooyong and Chisholm," he said.

"It posted signs that were clearly designed to trick Chinese speaking voters into thinking that the AEC was directing them to vote in a particular way. That is just not on."

The AEC argues the ban on "misleading and deceptive conduct" only concerns conduct which affects the process of casting a vote, not the formation of a political judgment.

The Coalition has a two-seat majority in the House of Representatives, with 77 MPs following the election.

If the challenge against Mr Frydenberg and Ms Liu's elections was successful, it would trigger by-elections in those seats, potentially putting Mr Morrison's majority in threat.

The result in Chisholm came down to 1090 votes, but Mr Frydenberg had a comfortable lead in Kooyong of more than 11,000 votes.

- with AAP



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