In winter 2017, the latest fashion in Australian Federal politics seems to be having dual citizenship. At the time of writing, there are six members of the current Parliament who have been referred to the High Court to determine, amongst other things, if they were ever validly elected. Potentially, they could have to repay their salary, legislation they voted on may be invalid and so on. What happens from here is unknown and there are various claims and counter claims being made by ‘interested stakeholders’ including the Prime Minister.
The government is moving closer towards unilaterally referring four Labor MPs to the High Court to have the validity of their election tested, in a move that would mark a dramatic escalation of the citizenship stoush that has so far seen six MPs – Nationals Barnaby Joyce and Matt Canavan, former Greens Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, One Nation MP Malcolm Roberts and Nick Xenophon – referred to the High Court to have the validity of their election examined.
The four ALP MP’s have immigrant backgrounds, however
A senior Labor source warned: “if we go down this path, it will destroy them.”
The ALP was, the source said, “confident in our vetting processes, while they don’t have one, that’s why they need the High Court”.
Others have the resources to cover the ins and outs of this brouhaha with far greater timeliness that this blogsite, but they probably don’t get time to look at the demonstration of the morals and ethics displayed by the various players in this confected circus.
First up, Section 44 of the Constitution is there for a reason. Depending on your point of view it could be as relevant today as it was in the 1890’s or it could be a throwback to the days of the white Australia policy and should be repealed. Bill O’Chee (former National Party Senator in the 1990’s) seems to think there is a valid reason for the exclusion of dual citizens from the Parliament — the article is one point of view. Regardless, given that transport and communication around the world is considerably faster than it was in the 1890’s, it’s not so hard to understand that the chances of someone being a dual citizen (and being found out if they are) are significantly greater now than they were 120 years ago or thereabouts. All who nominate for Federal Parliament are reminded of their obligation in the Australian Electoral Commission’s nomination form, so there is clearly no excuse for suggesting that anyone who chooses to run is not aware of the requirement to renounce any other citizenship.
The list of those that have been ‘found out’ as well as those that have questions surrounding their nationality continues to grow. There seems to be two groups of people caught up in this mess: those that are a victim of circumstance, and those that are not. The second group include Scott Ludlam, Malcolm Roberts and Matthew Canavan. Ludlam was born in New Zealand, immigrated to Australia and should have known that at some stage of his life he was a New Zealand citizen. Malcolm Roberts has a history of deliberate vagueness and irrationality, this being no different to his attitude to climate change. Matthew Canavan’s excuse that his mother signed him up to be an Italian citizen in his 20’s has as much creditability as Shane Warne’s defence when he was temporarily banned from high level cricket for taking a banned diuretic drug in the early noughties, the dog ate my homework, it’s only a flesh wound and many other worn out clichés.
Which leaves us with those with similar claims to Larissa Waters, Nick Xenophon and Barnaby Joyce, who seem to be victims of circumstance. While Waters was born in Canada to Australian parents studying in Winnipeg, she apparently was unaware that her birthplace gave her automatic Canadian citizenship according to their law. Waters left Canada when she was 11 months old. Ironically, the Canadian law was changed a week after her birth to an ‘opt-out’ system. Joyce holds New Zealand citizenship by virtue of his father being born there, according to New Zealand law (since repealed). Xenophon is a dual Australian/UK citizen by virtue of his father, a Greek Cypriot. When his father emigrated to Australia in the 1950’s, Cyprus was a British Dominion and his father (despite trying to ’escape’ the British), travelled to Australia on British travel documents.
The High Court is the place for the various claims and counterclaims to be determined, not a blog site, or for that matter by the pronouncements of Malcolm Turnbull, a relatively successful and prominent lawyer who appeared in front of the High Court, who has subsequently struggled as Prime Minister:
Based on advice from the solicitor-general, the government is very confident the court will not find that the member for New England [Joyce] is to be disqualified from the parliament
A blog site is in contrast, the place to make some observations about the way the various political parties are handling the dual citizenship matter. The basic issue here is does every Australian Federal Parliament representative meet the requirements of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution? In the case of the Greens, Coalition and One Nation — the answer is on the face of it, apparently they don’t.
The ALP claims:
We are confident that every member of the Labor caucus has been properly elected,” ALP Acting National Secretary Paul Erickson said.
The Labor Party works closely with all our candidates to ensure that their nomination is sound and compliant with the constitution.
This is a critical part of our nomination processes.
At the time of writing, the ALP’s statement seems to be correct in that no ALP MP or Senator has been confirmed as a dual citizen, something that Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke, went some way towards explaining in Parliament a week or so ago:
“Every member of the Labor caucus has been properly elected. We have processes in place, that go back to grandparents, making sure that wherever citizenship needs to be renounced, that the full requirements of the Constitution are taking into account.”
It didn’t stop Shorten slapping the Greens administration practices with a wet lettuce leaf:
“I think Australians will say ‘what is going on with the Green political party? Are they ready to be serious political operators? Are they up for the job?’ And so I think that this sort of inadvertently damages people’s confidence.”
Turnbull’s initial reaction was less that sympathetic.
“Obviously Senator Ludlam’s oversight is a pretty remarkable one when you think about it — he’s been in the Senate for so long,” Mr Turnbull said.
In a separate interview with Channel Nine, the Prime Minister said:
“It is pretty amazing, isn’t it, that you have had two out of nine Greens Senators didn’t realise they were citizens of another country.
“It shows incredible sloppiness on their part. You know, when you nominate for Parliament, there is actually a question — you have got to address that Section 44 question and you’ve got to tick the box and confirm that you are not a citizen of another country.
When it came to Joyce’s bona-fides being questioned a few days later, the situation was apparently completely different and the attack dog in Turnbull surfaced:
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Labor leader Bill Shorten of “conspiring with a foreign power” to steal government, as he fights for survival following Barnaby Joyce’s citizenship bombshell.
The reality is that Fairfax media had been ‘sniffing around’ the issue for a while, at the same time as a member of ALP Senator Penny Wong’s staff asked a friend in the New Zealand Labour Party (and member of the New Zealand Parliament) about citizenship matters. The New Zealand Parliamentarian asked a question in Parliament which was later called inappropriate. Turnbull criticising two people networking while not touching the elephant in the room — Fairfax was going to publish the story anyway — is interesting. The Coalition claim to promote business, and should understand that networking is a large part of successful enterprise!
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went hysterical:
“New Zealand is facing an election,” Ms Bishop said. “Should there be a change of government [to Labour], I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia.”
As Fairfax media reports:
However, NZ’s Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne [and leader of the United Future Party] said the rhetoric around NZ Labour was completely overblown.
‘This is so much utter nonsense – while Hipkins’ questions were inappropriate, they were not the instigator. Australian media inquiries were,’ he said, referring to persistent questions from Fairfax Media.
The Australian High Court is the final arbitrator of who can legally sit in Australia’s Federal Parliament. The increasing list of Federal Parliamentarians who have fallen foul of Section 44 of the Constitution through either citizenship or ‘receiving profit from the crown’ issues will have their day in court. The Greens Senators that have been affected by Section 44 of the Constitution announced their resignation from the Senate. The same can’t be said for the National Party or One Nation Senators and Members of Parliament — Canavan resigned from the ministry (his portfolio being taken over by Joyce) while Joyce and Senator Nash have retained their ‘responsibilities’ while under investigation. One Nation Senator Roberts has not resigned, neither have Xenophon or the Coalition MP and Senator who may have a case to answer over the subclause of Section 44 prohibiting MPs and Senators from receiving income from ‘the crown’.
Perth barrister, Dr John Cameron, brought down the first section 44 scalp, the Greens senator Scott Ludlam, by sending evidence of his New Zealand citizenship to the clerk of the Senate last month, an uneasy political detente held.
Xenophon claims that ‘platoons of parliamentarians and their staff are now at work trying to knock each other out of the game’. If Xenophon is correct, we all have to question the calibre of those that the political parties consider suitable for public office, as they should be using their taxpayer provided resources for the public good rather than settling of personal grievances. Politicians in general need to understand that others do have differing opinions on certain issues (heck even some in their own faction do) and nobody has the absolutely correct answer to every problem. There is nothing wrong with opinions being different — the problem is when opinions are forced down people’s throats as immutable facts. The Hawke era is still a demonstration of consensus between different groups generally resulting in a better outcome for all. The concept seems to have been lost since the 1980’s probably due to slick political marketing and politicians playing to win at all costs overwhelming the discussion of ideas and concepts for the betterment of Australia. Maybe the ALP does have bullet proof pre-selection processes or maybe they have just been lucky to date. Either way, maybe they are have learnt from past experience that ‘sitting back, observing and eating the popcorn’ is sometimes a much better strategy than throwing petrol onto a burning fire.
While the ALP was implicated, Fairfax media was going to run the story on Joyce’s dual citizenship anyway, so the massed indignation of political interference was good theatrics — and that’s about it. The Coalition, instead of admitting they had a problem and addressing it (as the Greens did through their Senators resigning from their job) thrashed around looking for someone else to blame for their own less than robust administrative process. Despite overwhelming evidence that the fan was starting to rotate anyway due to the investigations of Fairfax media, the Coalition tried to blame their political opposition. So much for the ‘adult government’ that are the only people with the skills necessary to govern the country. They can’t even take responsibility for their actions — while not being afraid to give advice to the Greens on their administration practices less than a week earlier! What’s that saying about pots and kettles?
The High Court will make their decision and depending what it is, the next few months could be really interesting to watch.
This article by 2353NM was originally published on The Political Sword.
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