A close shave in Bennelong as citizenship question lingers

On a grassed oval in Eastwood, in the heart of the Bennelong electorate, the local Liberal member John Alexander was liberated from his locks as part of a charity fundraising event on Friday afternoon.

As haircuts go, it was a close shave, but nothing too dramatic. After all, Mr Alexander could soon find himself facing a snap by-election and a shiny dome would be quite the departure from the silvery crop featured on his corflutes.

The former Australian tennis champion is the latest unsuspecting politician to become mired in the dual citizenship crisis after it emerged his English-born father may have bequeathed him UK citizenship by descent.

"We're only doing things regarding leukemia today," Mr Alexander said, as a media scrum momentarily hijacked the charity event, chasing him for clarification over his citizenship status.

"When I have any knowledge which is conclusive, I will make a statement. But I can't say anything else until then.

"But have a sausage." He added that for good measure, as a charity barbecue sizzled nearby.

The scandal has already claimed the jobs of six politicians, three of whom had acquired British citizenship through their parents - a fact which the High Court ruled placed them foul of section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution.

When Fairfax Media approached Bennelong voters on Friday, they were mostly fed-up with the so-called citizenship crisis, which was threatening to claim their local MP's career.

"It's a bit of a joke. I think people who are born in Australia, have an Australian passport, and in his case have represented Australia in sport, should be able to be in parliament," said Louise Goddard, who has lived in the electorate for 18 years.

"I truly don't think it's his fault."

Annoyed at the prospect of another election, Sean McDermott, 47, a stay-at-home dad, said he would consider copping the fine for a no-show.

"I don't worry about silly things like this," he said, shaking his head. "Crisis? A lot of people aren't even keeping up with this [news]".

The electorate of Bennelong has a history of providing its Liberal occupants with long and prestigious careers.

John Howard, Australia's second-longest serving prime minister and now Liberal Party statesman, kept the seat warm for more than three decades. And before him, Sir John Cramer, a minister in the Menzies government, held it for 25 years.

But it has gone to Labor once before. In 2010, journalist-turned-politician Maxine McKew vanquished Mr Howard, riding the Kevin07-wave into office before exiting three years later in the same ebb that left the Gillard government without a parliamentary majority.

And the question of whether it could swing red again - and with it threaten to topple Malcolm Turnbull's government, which clings to one-seat majority - had journalists chasing Mr Alexander through Bennelong on Friday.

The electorate has changed substantially over the last three decades. Numerous boundary redistributions since the 1970s, have seen the electorate creep west into Labor territory. It has gained the suburbs of Eastwood, Epping, Carlingford, while shedding reliable Liberal voters in the heartland of Lane Cove and Hunters Hill.

The face of Bennelong now reflects the modern Australian migrant story, as vibrant Asian communities have emerged around Eastwood and Epping. At the 2016 census, over half of the electorate was born overseas, and 21 per cent identified as having Chinese ancestry.

"If he resigns and then runs again, I will definitely vote for him," said Grace, a Chinese-born Australian who runs the Epping Centre newsagency.

"He is very supportive of local businesses. And we have far more important things to worry about than dual citizenship."

Also willing to back Mr Alexander in a re-election bid is Kunal Pandit, 30, who has lived in Epping since he migrated from India four years ago.

"For Epping he has done a good job. I won't change my vote for that reason."

This story A close shave in Bennelong as citizenship question lingers first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.