What do you do when fair dinkum ain’t all that dinkum anymore? When your barbie’s shrimp less and your Barnaby’s a kiwi, does the word Australia even mean anything anymore?
In the last month, Australian Parliament has been thrown into chaos with revelations that dozens of our politicians might not be eligible to sit in Parliament.
WTF is going on?
The niggly bit of the constitution causing all this fuss is section 44(i). I know you’ve all read that bit, but just as a reminder…
Politicians are disqualified to sit in parliament if:
“(i) 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”
Sounds simple. Just don’t be a citizen of another country. The problem has arisen with many politicians being foreign citizens, or possessing foreign citizenship, without even knowing
This started a couple of months ago, when Greens senator Scott Ludlum resigned after learning he was still a citizen of New Zealand, where he had spent the first three years of his life. His colleague Larissa Waters, another Greens senator, then resigned after discovering that she was a Canadian citizen. Senator Waters left Canada as a baby.
As you can imagine, everyone in Parliament hurriedly started double-checking their citizenship. The Greens don’t ask about citizenship when selecting their Parliamentary candidates. The National Party don’t either. They only ask candidates to confirm they’re eligible to sit in Parliament. The Labor Party are the most thorough, asking candidates what country their parents were born in and requiring the submission of extra documentation.
As such, the Labor Party insists that they don’t need to put any of their pollies forward as potential worries, but they haven’t provided any documents to prove this. The Liberal National Party on the other hand…
It started with Matt Canavan, a National Party Senator. Turns out Senator Canavan holds citizenship with Italy by accident. He’s never been to Italy. His mother – who’s never visited either – apparently registered them both eleven years ago for reasons best known to herself. Senator Canavan has referred the matter to the High Court to make a ruling on his eligibility. While this question is up in the air, he’s resigned from his bigger responsibilities as Resources and Northern Australia Minister. That apparently ‘responsible’ decision would end up biting the LNP in the bum because…
Senator Fiona Nash, deputy leader of the National Party, is an accidental British citizen – her father was born in Scotland. Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the National Party, is a surprise Kiwi citizen, because his father was born there. He found out when the New Zealand consulate phoned his office. (You remember Barnaby – he was the one who forced Johnny Depp to apologise in that video last year – here’s him walking into work last week, contemplating his renewed interest in hobbits and the All Blacks…)
The two high-profile pollies have refused to give up their posts, sending the Labor Party into loud claims of irresponsibility. Barnaby Joyce in particular holds a whole lot of power and responsibility, and his eligibility is uncertain.
Two other politicians are having their case reviewed in the High Court. Climate-change denier and NASA conspiracy theorist Malcom Roberts is another surprise UK citizen. Senator Nick Xenophon, another independent, also has ties to the UK.
There are calls from the Greens to audit all the politicians to clear up everything, or even to suspend Parliament until the whole mess is sorted out. Turnbull has assured everyone that won’t happen. He’s doing his best to maintain the illusion that his Government has some sense that they know what they’re doing (despite a handful of his ministers not knowing what country they’re citizens of, reaching a compromise on marriage equality that absolutely no one’s happy with and doing deals with Pauline Hanson to get stuff through the Senate – who last week came to work dressed up in a burqa).
The High Court has to decide on each of the politicians in question. Those who remain in Parliament have said they’re confident the High Court will decide in their favour. The court will start assessing these matters on Thursday – and they’re expected to decide by December. The constitution is open to interpretation, so there’s no clear understanding of which way the wind will blow – although most people think common sense will prevail and the ministers will be able to stay in their job.
If disaster happens and they have to resign, their seats would have to be individually counted. I won’t go into the weeds here on the electoral math, but safe to say that this would be a very nasty result for the Turnbull government. Turnbull holds the House of Reps by a margin of one. If he loses just one seat, he’s facing a dramatic uphill battle.
So we wait.
Oh. Also, we may be going to war with New Zealand.
So here’s a fun story. As you can imagine, when news emerged of Barnaby’s citizenship last week the Labor Party couldn’t contain themselves. Question time was a mess of giggles and bad jokes. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was not amused.
In the immediate aftermath of the Barnaby revelation, questions arose of who on Earth tipped off the New Zealand consulate that Barnaby was a possible citizen. New Zealand is soon to head to a federal election. Just like Australia, over in NZ, the Liberal National Party is in charge, and the Labor Party is in opposition. It slowly emerged that someone in Labor Senator Penny Wong’s office had been in touch with the New Zealand Labor Party, who had then dobbed on Barnaby.
Once this news was out, the Liberal National Party fronted the media, complaining of dirty politics from the Labor Party. Julie Bishop, usually contained and precise, over-reached in her comments. She suggested she’d have trouble trusting a New Zealand Labor Government, and that Australia’s long standing alliance with its neighbour might no longer be so secure.
The language was played down in the days to come, but not before the Labor Party got their teeth in and made fun of Minister Bishop for claiming international conspiracy.
Should I really have faith in these people? Aren’t they supposed to lead the country?
There’s no reason to suggest that these guys actually meant to lie to the public. On all sides, it looks as though they genuinely didn’t know they had dual citizenship. The section of the Constitution is open enough to be interpreted – which is why they’ve referred themselves to the High Court.
What’s clear is that with a country as young as Australia, it’s hard to find anyone who’s ‘100% Aussie’ – whatever that means.
It’s also worth remembering that the Labor Party are revelling in the circus at the moment, but we’ve only got their word to go off that all of their team are free from the same mistake.
This debacle comes at a tricky time for the Turnbull government. They’re slipping in the polls, and struggling to get media oxygen on the stuff they actually want to talk about. They’ve been drowning in the same sex marriage debate and this citizenship saga for the last three weeks.
All of the photos are from amazing photographer Mike Bowers from The Guardian.
We’ll be back at the end of the week with the news.