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Mum Did It: The Canavan Argument, Citizenship and the Australian Constitution

“A real Italian never blames his mum.” Australian Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, SBS, Jul 27, 2017.

It has raged, and continues to do so, like a pestilence emptying the benches of the Australian parliament. Who will be the next to be carried off into political oblivion for violating section 44 of the Australian constitution, a dull but supremely destructive provision that disqualifies dual-citizenship holders from holding office?

The Greens were the first to be ravaged by the constitutionally driven illness, with Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters making their own discoveries that they had citizenships they were ignorant off. Both duly fell on their positioned swords, the latter with more feeling than the former.

Then came questions about One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, who still insists that he has neither British nor Indian connections. He reiterated to The Australian that he renounced his British citizenship on June 6 last year, though remains indifferent to producing the proof.

The same paper uncovered, last Friday, British High Commission records showing that the senator was born a British citizen, and that he had travelled on a British passport as a baby.[1] But Roberts, keeping matters tantalizing, has tweeted that he has the “necessary” documentation and “will soon release details of dual citizenship review I have called for.” (The desperation that calls for deflection).

Novel excuses are being proffered in the latest round of outings. “As far as I am aware” is a common formulation, and it is not a vessel that holds much water: ignorance is far from convincing at the best of times. But it is exactly that ignorance that will form Nationals Senator Matt Canavan’s application to the High Court.

In the case of Senator Canavan, it is ignorance of one’s mother’s actions at the Italian consulate in Brisbane in 2006 to seek Italian citizenship. No papers, Canavan claimed, were signed. He took no active steps to become an Italian national. But there was devious mother Maria, beavering away behind his back to launch him into the soup. (Canavan was not entirely unaware – a family discussion had taken place a year prior).

This blissful ignorance of a parent’s actions in supposedly signing you up for the citizenship of another country is fodder for satirists, not to mention those questioning a politician’s sense of awareness. The imagination on this point is piqued, though, as with other matters of the imagination, not necessarily plausible.

Sara Bucalossi, a visa procurement associate at one of Italy’s largest immigration law firms, Mazzeschi, certainly thought as much. “It doesn’t matter if someone else wants to apply for you, not your parents, not even your wife, because you’re an adult at that point, you make the decision for yourself.”[2]

Italian consulates in Australia, Bucalossi also noted, tended to follow this to the letter. Sarcastically, she did observe that, given the numerous consulates spread across the globe, she could not confirm the possibility that Canavan’s shoddy reasoning might be credible. Perhaps “in Mongolia or something like this?”

Each day brings forth another horde of gold. It is now clear that Canavan has been listed on the Registry of Italians Residing Abroad in addition to receiving Italian voting forms addressed to him, though sent to his mother’s address for the last 10 years.

Other colleagues have been sceptical of the senator’s defence. The Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, is understandably short on kindness, given the savaging loss of two senators from his team. “Now Senator Canavan should do the right thing by the Australian people and resign immediately.” To date, Canavan has merely left the Cabinet.

Senator Cory Bernardi of the Australian Conservatives suggested that Canavan was promoting a variant of the “dog ate my homework” excuse. “My father was Italian. We inquired into these citizenship matters many, many years ago and we found it was simply impossible to do as an adult, unless you were part of it yourself.”[3]

The always colourful Bob Katter, federal MP from Queensland, found Canavan’s reasoning near ludicrous. “If you’re telling me someone was made a citizen of another country without your knowledge, you’d be seriously testing my intelligence, I mean, give me a break!”

The forum Canavan will have to convince is the High Court of Australia, which will need in the order of six months, at the bare minimum, to consider the case. Given their rigid, formal interpretations of section 44, the chances for exemption are questionable.

Nothing in the provision suggests that a mental state, or volition, are necessary ingredients to be taken into account on discovering you are the national of another country. As one legal opinion voiced to AAP went, “I can’t see there’s suddenly any flexibility or discretion to create a consent because no one consents to citizenship.”[4] Gabrielle Appleby of UNSW prefers to see it in more problematic terms, focusing on the taking of “all reasonable steps to renounce citizenship”.

The active element here is that of being entitled to a foreign nationality, and the active renunciation of it, a point made by the majority in Sykes v Cleary [No 2] (1992).[5] Having to “acquiesce” to it would perhaps be a reasonable extension (the dissenting view of Justice William Deane suggests this), but would require judicial adventurism Australian judges are not renowned for. That is a mountain Canavan and this government will have to climb.








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  1. kerri

    Katter can be a pain but he is good for cutting through the BS.

  2. pierre wilkinson

    once again, one law for us, another law for them
    – I wonder if he is related to Shane Warne?

  3. diannaart

    I look forward to Dr Binoy Campmark’s articles – they are concise, well reasoned and usually lack unnecessary elaborations.

    The Greens were the first to be ravaged by the constitutionally driven illness, with Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters making their own discoveries that they had citizenships they were ignorant off. Both duly fell on their positioned swords, the latter with more feeling than the former.

    1/ If Larissa Walters was more emotional resigning from a job she valued highly, so what?

    2/ Not that this is an excuse, but Larissa Waters has just recently given birth. This event has been known to cause hormonal fluctuations.

    The main body of article poses reasonable questions and highlight the “some are more equal than others” entitlement of the ring-wing conservative.

    Malcolm “empirical evidence” Roberts has yet to provide his proof of citizenship.

    Matt Canavan used the Shane Warne/Justin Bieber defence and blamed their mothers.

  4. nurses1968

    The bottom line is Ludlam Waters and Canavan should never have been candidates for election and IF they had bothered reading the handbook all candidates get they could have renounced their citizenship or not stood
    Ignorance is not an excuse

    As for Canavan ABCs Emma Alberici has been all over it

    Emma Alberici‏Verified account @albericie Jul 25

    Today seemed like a good day to renew my kids’ Italian passports & shoot the breeze with my friends at the Consulate

    To be clear – I have had this confirmed through official channels

    Here’s what I learnt at the Italian Consulate today. Italian Citizenship rules are the same regardless of where you live in the world

    Well he’d also have to sign the form and then possibly attend follow up interviews according to Italian Consulate.

    Emma Alberici‏Verified account @albericie Jul 25

    Gaining Italian citizenship is a massive palaver #justsaying

    Over the age of 18 must present themselves for application

    As for Malcolm Roberts

    “One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts wrote bizarre ‘sovereign citizen’ letter to Julia Gillard ”

  5. khsharpe

    was the small matter of Tony Abbott’s possible dual citizenship while PM ever satisfactorily resolved? If not, perhaps now would be a good time to revisit it?

  6. jimhaz

    “Malcolm-Ieuan: Roberts., the living soul” certainly cannot be trusted. He must provide evidence.

  7. jimhaz

    Section 44.

    “Any person who –

    (i.) Is under any acknowledgement 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 citizen of a foreign power: or”

    Well considering the manner in which the LNP glorifies Rupert Murdoch, a US citizen thus a foreign power, the entire gov should also resign.

  8. Peter F

    There has been some suggestion that Italian law automatically revokes the citizenship of a person who serves in another country’s armed forces or Government. This should not change the situation if in this country he was not eligible to stand for election as I believe to be the case.

  9. Dave

    I still don’t believe abbotts’ “proof”, he has just told too many lies in the past.

  10. khsharpe

    I don’t remember reading of any documented proof that Abbott has relinquished his British citizenship. I have a vague memory that both the Australian and British goverments declined to offer any firm confirmation one way or other. Have I missed anything?

  11. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Abbott belatedly provided alleged proof of his renunciation on Twitter. But there is scepticism that it is authentic.

  12. khsharpe

    so still no-one has sighted actual documentation? I could never understand why Labor didn’t hammer this relentlessly.

  13. Pete Petrass

    I am sure Brandis will organise a Judge to issue a favourable result for Canavan. Some focus appears to have now been lost on Abbott’s own RN form which is still to make an appearance.

  14. diannaart

    Mr Abbott released a copy of a letter, dated January 5, 2015, from UK Visas & Immigration as proof that he gave up his British citizenship some 23 years earlier, in October 1993.

    Now, about Abbott’s claim he is human:

  15. nurses1968

    British officials confirmed Malcolm Roberts renounced his citizenship only on December 5 – after July 2 election
    James Massola Chief Political Correspondent, Sydney Morning Herald & The Age. Melbourne,

  16. Matters Not

    Pete Petrass re:

    Brandis will organise a Judge to issue a favourable result for Canavan

    Pete, I think you will find that there will be more than one Judge involved. Further, the notion that Brandis has any influence over Judges in the High Court is somewhat fanciful. While Brandis might be a legal cretin, he knows that any such attempt would be counter-productive in the extreme.

    And yes. PHON’s Malcolm Roberts seems to be in extreme difficulty. Then again his definition of ’empirical’ evidence might see him argue otherwise.

  17. Keitha Granville

    WTF !!!!
    Any politician – a servant of the people – should be FORCED to provide the relevant paperwork to prove they are eligible for parliament. How is it possible for Sen Roberts to claim he tried his best to renounce ? SHOW US THE PAPERWORK.

    These individuals – Canavan included, and anyone else with dodgy provenance -are treating the electorate with scorn and the parliament with contempt. Where is the PM ? He needs to be out here front and centre demanding an immediate resolution to this stupidity.

    Next time Centrelink needs some paperwork to prove something, how about we all tell them we have it, we’re sure it’s kosher, but we can’t supply it – they’ll just have to take our word.

  18. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I like your thinking, Keitha.

  19. C. Mitchell

    I remember the original petition in regard to Abbott’s claim; eventually a reply came back from the British that his claim “could not be confirmed”; their reply also nominated that the reason for it not being found was “that it probably did not exist” !!!

  20. Freethinker

    Pauline sister is # 1 in the list as a replacement to Roberts so the appalling quality of members in the senate will not change.
    The only hope is an election.

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