Australian Labor Party (ALP) Member of Parliament (MP) David Feeney has resigned from federal politics, triggering a by-election in the seat of Batman, which the ALP fears it could lose to the Greens.
Feeney last year became embroiled in the dual citizenship fiasco after failing to locate paperwork confirming his citizenship status and his eligibility to sit in the parliament.
In December last year, he was referred to the court by federal parliament after being unable to produce documents confirming he had renounced any foreign citizenship in 2007.
At a preliminary hearing in the Australian High Court last month, Feeney’s legal team confirmed he was still unable to produce any documentary evidence from British or Irish authorities that he took steps to renounce his citizenship and entitlements.
Feeney yesterday told reporters that since the necessary records could not be produced: “I am unable to disprove that I am a dual citizen.”
“On this basis, having regard for my duty under section 44 of the constitution, I have today written to the speaker of the House of Representatives resigning as an MP effective immediately,” Feeney said.
“I have spoken to my family and I have decided that I will not be seeking ALP preselection for this by-election. Today I have written to the Victorian ALP state secretary to that effect,” he added.
He said the ALP deserved a candidate in Batman that was able to give “the months and the years ahead 150 percent of their effort, their commitment and their passion. After careful reflection, I don’t believe I’m able to offer this.”
ALP sources have told Guardian Australia that the likely candidate to replace Feeney in the seat is the Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney, who was looking at a state seat, but has been prevailed upon to run federally.
The federal seat of Batman is in the same geographical area as the Victorian State seat of Northcote, which the Greens snatched from the Victorian Labor government in a by-election in November last year.
Federally, the Greens fancy their chances of taking Batman from the ALP, and party insiders concede privately that outcome is entirely possible.
Kearney, with her campaign background, is regarded as a stronger candidate than Feeney in the Melbourne electorate, which includes the biggest Greens branch in the country, and a substantial, established field operation.
The Greens candidate in the seat will be Alex Bhathal, who went close to taking the seat from Labor at the last federal election.
While there is some criticism about Bhathal at the local level, she has the support of the Greens federal team and party sources say the local backbiting is from a minority of members.
The Liberals are unlikely to field a candidate, which will increase the difficulty of Labor’s bid to hold the seat.
The Victorian ALP is in the middle of a bare-knuckle factional battle triggered by a proposed power realignment between right and left wing powerbrokers.
Before Feeney’s resignation, Labor leader Bill Shorten sent a public signal for the first time that the federal ALP could seek to stop the controversial Adani coalmine — a hardening of the party’s stance.
The Greens have been running an anti-Adani campaign in the suburbs of Melbourne covered by the Batman boundaries for almost 12 months, associating Labor with the project.
The Greens campaign will be amplified by local activist groups campaigning against the controversial Queensland mine project.