Australian politicians want a referendum on dual citizenship rules, claiming they're 'increasingly undemocratic'

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  • The Coalition government called for an inquiry into the Constitution last year after several Nationals and Liberal politicians fell foul of Section 44, which prohibits dual citizenship.
  • The issue has now involved 15 senators and MPs, with 10 not returning to parliament, while another four face by-elections.
  • The Parliamentary committee recommended Australian voters decide whether to change the Constitution but conceded the general public’s mood may not be in favour of change.

An inquiry into the dual citizenship fiasco plaguing the Australian parliament for the last 10 months has led a committee of MPs to recommend changes to the Constitution should be put to a referendum by Australian voters.

The failure of 15 candidates to properly fill out paperwork before standing for election in 2016 has resulted in 10 being thrown out of their $200,000 jobs because they were dual citizens, with 15 all up falling foul of Section 44 of the Constitution.

Last week four MPs who were dual citizens when they nominated as candidates in the 2016 election resigned from parliament in the wake of a High Court ruling that declared Labor senator Katy Gallagher ineligible because she was still a UK citizen when she stood for election, despite attempting to renounce it beforehand.

Today the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters released its report into Section 44 of The Australian Constitution. While the ongoing scandal initially hit the Coalition government, including former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, last week it was Labor’s turn, with Gallagher resigning along with three ALP MPs who now have to recontest their marginal seats.

The Committee chair, Western Australian Liberal Senator Linda Reynolds, said the report concluded that more High Court referrals were “inevitable” and while the problems with Section 44 “are neither new, nor unforeseen”, the result of the rules written more than a century ago by the country’s founding fathers are “becoming increasingly undemocratic”.

Reynolds claimed the recent High Court decisions “created new uncertainties and future opportunities to manipulate election results”.

“The Committee makes no judgement on the dual citizenship issue itself,” she said.

“The question of whether or not the application of these rules meets contemporary Australian expectations is a different matter altogether and is one for Australians to ultimately determine.

“We believe that issue is one for Australians to consider as part of a wider debate on qualities we want in our candidates when they stand for election and for those who are elected to Parliament.”

The senator acknowledged there had already been 20 years of committee reports and other inquiries all predicting the problems now befalling the current crop of politicians, but conceded that while the latest investigation recommended a referendum to change the Constitution, the voting public may be unwilling to endorse any changes to the rules.

Here are the recommendations from the report:

Recommendation 1
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government prepare a proposed referendum question to either:
– repeal sections 44 and 45 of the Constitution; or
– insert into sections 44 and 45 the words: ‘Until the Parliament otherwise provides…’
Recommendation 2
If the referendum passes, the Committee further recommends that the Australian Government further engages with the Australian community to determine contemporary expectations of standards in order to address all matters of qualification and disqualification for Parliament through legislation under section 34 of the Constitution.
Recommendation 3
In the event that a referendum does not proceed or does not pass, that the Australian Government consider strategies to mitigate the impact of section 44 as outlined in this report.
Recommendation 4
The Committee recommends that the Government consider the implications of this report in the context of the upcoming be-elections, in particular the options outlined in chapter 4.

Senator Reynolds said that “until such time a referendum is successful in providing Australians or their elected representatives the ability to change disqualifications, the committee has recommended the Federal Government consider implementing a range of mitigation strategies”, including in time for the four upcoming by-elections from the latest round of resignations.

Labor’s shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, said the Opposition will give the report’s recommendations “serious consideration”, adding that it was “an important step forward” on the issues involved.

“Labor notes the committee’s recommendation for a referendum on section 44. However we also recognise the need to address issues related to dual citizenship in a timely and practical manner,” he said.

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