With Barnaby Joyce the latest name placed under examination, I wonder if we’re taking this too far. If the Constitution is faulty, shouldn’t we change it to better reflect who we are?
It started with Scott Ludlam and has since claimed Larissa Waters, Matthew Canavan and Malcolm Roberts. Section 44(i) of the Constitution, a pesky provision apparently unknown to many of our parliamentarians until a couple of weeks ago, has struck! And it shows no sign of abating.
Section 44 of the Constitution outlines the various circumstances in which a person will be disqualified from being a member of parliament. One such case is set out in section 44(i) which applies to a person who “is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power”. The Constitution clearly states that any such person “shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”
For Greens Senator and Co-Deputy Leader Scott Ludlam, it was the fact that he had wrongly assumed his New Zealand citizenship ended when he was naturalised as an Australian citizen, which forced him to quit the Senate. For the other Greens Senator and Co-Deputy Leader, Larissa Waters, it was the fact that she was born in Canada (albeit to Australian parents) and didn’t actively renounce her Canadian citizenship (she never knew she was a Canadian citizen), which forced her to resign.
Last week, LNP Senator Matthew Canavan discovered that he is a dual Australian-Italian citizen. But only because his mother had applied for and obtained Italian citizenship on his behalf ten years ago apparently without his knowledge or consent. Canavan quit his post in Cabinet but remains in parliament and his case has been referred to the High Court.
One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts is in a section 44 quandary because he was born to a Welsh father. Although he renounced his British citizenship before he nominated for election, the British High Commission only confirmed he was not a British citizen five months after his election. Roberts is hanging on in parliament and, consistently with the alternative fact universe he seems to live in, he is “choosing to believe” that he was never a British citizen.
But wait! There’s more!
The Victorian Liberal MP, Julia Banks, might be another victim because her father was born in Greece. This might give her Greek citizenship. If Banks is caught by section 44(i) of the Constitution, it will force a by-election in the marginal Victorian seat of Chisholm. This could be a major disaster for the Turnbull Government’s one seat majority. The Liberal Party has been quick to respond to these concerns; apparently, it has received confirmation from the Greek embassy that Banks is not a Greek citizen. Add to that, the dolt in the forty gallon hat, Barnaby Joyce, who is suspected of having NZ citizenship.
The Constitution is, in many respects, out of touch. It’s no coincidence that Bill Shorten has announced that if Labor wins the next election, it will hold a referendum on Australia becoming a republic.
Now, mistakes can and do happen, but this whole affair is a debacle. It would be one thing if these politicians were caught out by a mere legal technicality buried deep in an ancient law that has never seen the light of day, but this is the Constitution, the so-called “birth certificate” of the nation. It is the Constitution which provides the rules, and the checks and balances, for our system of government. It is the one thing that binds us all. The fact that some of our elected representatives don’t seem to know much about the law which gives them the power to govern is troubling.
Beyond this, the citizenship fiasco raises serious questions about Australia’s identity as a nation. Under section 42 of the Constitution, every MP is required to make an oath or affirmation of allegiance to the King or Queen of the United Kingdom before taking his or her seat in Parliament. On the one hand, the Constitution disqualifies a person from becoming a member of parliament if the person has allegiance to a foreign power and on the other, it requires our elected MPs to swear allegiance to a foreign power. Go figure.
The Constitution is, in many respects, out of touch. It’s no coincidence that Bill Shorten has now announced that if Labor wins the next election, it will hold a referendum on Australia becoming a republic. There is also a growing movement for recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Constitution as the nation’s first peoples as well as increasing support for a treaty between Australia and Indigenous Australians. Apart from our first peoples, we have all come from somewhere else – that much is clear from the citizenship crisis engulfing our MPs. So when Malcolm Turnbull calls for migrants to support “Australian values” or when Pauline Hanson says that “Australia is for Australians”, we need to question what this really means, especially when it turns out that those who seemed so ‘Australian’ on the outside just aren’t ‘Australian’ enough.