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As someone who has faced their own Section 44 challenge, I believe we should consider it a permanent part of our political landscape – for good or ill.
It was a sunny Sydney Saturday reunion of old radio cronies at the fabled 178-year-old Lord Nelson Hotel at The Rocks.
As I walked in the door, my old 2GB mates started a raucous chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi, oi, oi!”
The reason? They had just heard on the News that George Brandis and Penny Wong had decided I didn’t need to go to the High Court to prove I wasn’t a Yank – a specious claim made by One Nation because I held an American social security card, having paid social security taxes while working for Fairfax in New York in the 1960s and 70s.
I was so relieved, I offered to shout the bar and put down a $100 bill. An American greenback. Joke, Joyce. Under Section 44, things had, by this time, become a bit of a political joke. Pollies under suspicion were falling like skittles. The first of a raft of by-elections were already on the way.
Remember that, way before that, I had become the original target of dual citizenship allegations – along with the Greens Scott Ludlam. We both had held New Zealand citizenship.
Perth lawyer, and Constitution buff, John Cameron, who also was born across the ditch, targeted me, I guess, because he thought a journo wouldn’t have paid attention such a detail. He tossed in Ludlam because, both living in WA, he’d read that he was Kiwi-born too. And he’d voted for him.
Cameron said: “I expected the ‘Human Headline’ may not have done it and Mr Ludlam would have done it but it was the other way around.”
What happened next has been well-documented. Ludlam announced his shock resignation 48 hours later and was quickly followed by fellow Green Larissa Waters in Queensland.
Despite the Libs and Nats adopting a “move on, nothing to see here” stance and Bill Shorten’s boast of Labor’s “rolled gold, 24-carat” screening process, the dominoes started to fall on all sides, including the cross-bench.
Fiona Nash, John Alexander, Katy Gallagher, Lambie, Kakoschke-More, Sharkie, Xenophon, Joyce.
The side issue which pissed me off was that as the suspect politicians exited, so did the numbers we felt we had to finally force a Ban Live Sheep Exports bill through Parliament.
There are constant demands for a referendum to delete parts of it. It will never happen. I can’t see a referendum, designed to make life easier for politicians, ever getting up.
But the resignation that really rocked the red benches was the sudden exit of Senate President Stephen Parry. It turned out that not only had the much-respected former Tasmanian policeman known for months he was ineligible to even sit in the Senate – let alone preside over it – but he stayed shtum while handing up the High Court paperwork sending Senator Nash to the political gallows.
And to make it worse, if possible, he had confided in colleagues like Mitch Fifield (and I suspect, George Brandis) and someone advised him to sit tight – with all his presidential perks – until the High Court ruled on the eligibility of others.
Which leads me to Josh Frydenberg. A fresh parliament, an unexpected lease of life for ScoMo and his deputy, but the same old S44 is lingering. Like a fart at a funeral.
— Sky News Australia (@SkyNewsAust) August 30, 2017
As with many others who fell over their mother or father’s citizenship (and their offsprings’ second country entitlements) the challenge to Frydenberg’s eligibility centres on his mother and whether or not she was a World War II stateless person or still a citizen of Hungary when she came to Australia as a refugee.
To make it even more controversial, Frydenberg’s mother was fleeing the Holocaust and that, in itself, has made his supporters claim the High Court challenge to his right to sit is an obscene effrontery.
And add to the mix the fact that Oliver Yates – the driving force behind the High Court challenge – was an independent candidate in Frydenberg’s electorate in the May 2019 election. He was soundly beaten with the Treasurer polling around 50% (a drop of 8%) with the Greens Julian Burnside way back in second, Labor 3rd and Yates 4th on 9%.
It may surprise some that GetUp is backing Frydenberg on this. The group, which caused electoral havoc for the Liberals in seats like Tony Abbott’s, issued a statement: “The challenge against Josh Frydenberg on the grounds of dual citizenship is beyond offensive and we condemn it. No one should be denied a place in Parliament because their family was forced to flee the Holocaust. GetUp has never supported these citizenship challenges. They perpetuate deeply outdated views on citizenship and are used to discriminate against everyday people participating in politics.”
Also on The Big Smoke
- Section 44, what is it good for? Or: Why I stopped caring and pitied Barnaby Joyce
- Hinch: Our government passed a social media gag bill without debate
- White House Charters: On the road again
I know a lot of people agree. They think Section 44 is old-fashioned and discriminatory in this migratory world. There are constant demands for a referendum to delete parts of it. It will never happen. I can’t see a referendum, designed to make life easier for politicians, ever getting up.
The Greens and I tried to get into law that all members of Parliament provide to the court proof of citizenship and proof of dual revocation.
At the height of the s44 furore, 3AW’s Neil Mitchell put it succinctly: “If Hinch can do it, it can’t be that hard”.
It’s called doing your homework.
I’ll leave you with a quote from that constitutional zealot, John Cameron. Borrowed from a quote from 17th-century historian Thomas Fuller, “Be ye ever so high, the law is always above thee.”
And so is the Constitution.
Former senator and veteran journalist Derryn Hinch now hosts an eponymous weekly program on SKY News.