The Alexander Gambit – how to resign in five moves

MP John Alexander resigned his seat in parliament on Saturday, five days after Fairfax Media revealed that it was highly likely he was a dual citizen, and nearly four months after the issue of dual citizenship became front page news with Scott Ludlam’s surprise resignation.

While I’m not John Alexander, here’s my attempt at what he should have said at his press conference:

Today I am resigning my seat in federal parliament as representative of the people of Bennelong.  I do so because when I nominated for the seat I falsely declared myself to be solely an Australian citizen, and this was and is not true. While I was ignorant of the fact at the time, my ignorance is no excuse; it was my responsibility to confirm and I did not. I would like to thank the people of Bennelong for putting their trust in me, and I would like to apologise to them, to the parliament, and to the people of Australia for my error and the inconvenience it will cause. Thank you.

But John Alexander didn’t say or do anything like that. He employed the Alexander gambit.

To begin with, it strains credulity that ever since Scott Ludlam resigned any member of federal parliament would not have double-checked their status and would already know the answer. It absolutely beggars belief that anyone would not have checked since the High Court decision.

Apparently not John. Once Fairfax published his probable status he didn’t resign on the spot, instead he claimed that he was just now seeking assurance from the U.K. authorities. This should take a couple of days, as many people have pointed out. After five days it transpired that what he was seeking was not confirmation of his status, but rather evidence to support his claim that he was not a dual citizen.

Most people would realise that if you’re a hypocrite, sorry, dual citizen, a search for evidence that you’re not a hypocrite, sorry, dual citizen can take a long time. Forever, in fact. I suppose we should be grateful that John didn’t wait a few more weeks for news he knew would never come. As the Sydney Morning Herald put it he resigned  “after British authorities were unable to uncover any evidence to support repeated assurances he was not a dual citizen”.

That was the first move in the gambit. Check. The subsequent masterful moves came in his announcement of the reason for his resignation. It was nothing like my suggestion above. Instead, what he said (in part, reported by both the ABC and The Guardian) was:

My right to remain in parliament depends on my belief that I am solely Australian. Given what I have learned about the constitution and understanding now of the high court decision just a couple of weeks ago, I can no longer, with sufficient certainty, maintain the belief that I have held through my 66 years.

This is masterful not only for what it says, but also for what it doesn’t say. No mention of making a false declaration. No mention of his real status as a dual citizen. No apology for having wasted our time and money. No contrition, and a resignation to stave off being referred to the High Court.

However the real mastery of the gambit is the complete and misleading irrelevance of everything he did say.  Let me take it one move at a time.

“My right to remain in parliament depends on my belief that I am solely Australian.” John is clearly channeling Malcolm Roberts here. No, John, your right to remain in parliament depends on your being validly elected, and not breaking the law thereafter. Your beliefs are absolutely irrelevant. Move 2. Check.

“Given what I have learned about the constitution…”. Let’s gloss over the embarrassing possibility that an elected member of parliament had never bothered until recently to read, let alone understand the Constitution. Let’s instead focus on the more embarrassing fact that, Constitution aside, John swore a false declaration when he nominated for Parliament. John didn’t have to know or learn diddly-squat about the Constitution then because the specific clause was put right in front of him to read, understand, and sign when he nominated. He may have learned the Constitution by heart since then, it is irrelevant to his decision to resign. Move 3. Check.

“…and understanding now of the high court decision just a couple of weeks ago…”. Just as with John’s recent understanding of the constitution his understanding of the High Court’s decision is a complete irrelevance; firstly, because whether John understands it or not it remains a fact, but more importantly because the recent decision has no bearing on his position whatsoever.

John, there would never have been any doubt about your position; not since two weeks ago, but since the Constitution was first ratified. The recent High Court decision has and had no bearing on you. Under the most basic operation of s44 you lied either deliberately or inadvertently on your declaration and were never eligible for election. Unlike the recent High Court cases your situation involves no hostile foreign government, no desperate but unsuccessful attempts at renunciation, no recent and retrospective changes to your status or any other tricky or ambiguous application of s44. You have been a dual citizen for ever and ever, and the Court, if asked, wouldn’t even break stride in chucking you out, as you well know. Move 4. Check.

” …I can no longer, with sufficient certainty, maintain the belief that I have held through my 66 years.” Malcolm Roberts is still coming through loud and clear on John’s tooth fillings, it seems. What John believes is absolutely irrelevant. The only thing that matters in cases like these is facts. As for “sufficient certainty” in maintaining your beliefs, I have to say that’s the most mealy-mouthed version of “none” I’ve heard in a long time.

John, suffice it to say that either for 66 years you have known you were a dual citizen and you knowingly lied, or for 66 years you’ve been blissfully ignorant and despite specific prompting on the form and the risk you were lying under oath you couldn’t be arsed finding out despite some pretty strong hints (like your Dad not being Australian) that you should check. If you really didn’t know and have now found out, “sufficient certainty” is a remarkable way of saying “absolutely none. Zero, zilch, nada, squat.”

Regardless of that, though, John’s beliefs are a complete irrelevance here and striking a pose that you’ve regretfully come to self-doubt is a masterful way to avoid the much simpler construction “I was lazy and I lied, I’m illegal and must resign”. Move 5. Check and mate.

Note that nowhere during the entire gambit does John ever admit that he is a dual citizen. Neither does he admit he falsely swore his declaration. He doesn’t admit he’s not validly elected, and he absolutely makes no apology for the serious consequences of his error or for potentially hiding his knowledge and for delaying the announcement.

The Alexander Gambit. Admit nothing, deny everything, and pretend to huge moral courage. You should have been a politician, John…

Postscript. I chose the knight because it’s the only piece on the chessboard that doesn’t move directly. It appears to be moving in a straight line, and then suddenly swerves off at right angles in either direction. Every time. Like a politician.