When is an MP not an MP? It may sound like the start of a joke, but in fact dual citizenship turned out to be very serious issue, and one that has occupied the parliament and public debate for a large part of 2017.
It all started when two Greens senators, Scott Ludlam and then Larissa Waters, resigned from parliament on discovering they held dual citizenship – something that is not allowed under Section 44 of the Australian Constitution. One after another, MPs came forward to say that they, too, were under a citizenship cloud, the parliament ended up referring them all to the High Court.
In October, five of the “Citizenship Seven” – all except the Nationals’ Matt Canavan and Senate crossbencher Nick Xenophon – were found to be ineligible by the High Court. This included Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, and precipitated a byelection in Joyce’s seat of New England. He later won the poll comfortably.
Soon, another byelection was on the way, this time in the Sydney seat of Bennelong, after former tennis champion John Alexander announced that he, too, held dual citizenship. Alexander also won his byelection comfortably. Meanwhile, crossbench senators Jacqui Lambie and Skye Kakoscke-Moore resigned from parliament for the same reason.
This will not be the last we hear of Section 44 of the Constitution. The wrangles are likely to continue into the new year, amid ongoing debate about whether a referendum should be held to change the Constitution to ensure it never happens again.
Another great debate occupying the political sphere this year has been the marriage equality survey. In a debate that has been fiercely contested and at times vicious, our authors were able to take a cooler, dispassionate look at what was at stake, and examine the arguments put forward by either side.
Whether it was dissecting what the Bible really says about homosexuality or marriage, or looking at the ways in which same-sex couples were not equal under the law, the debate provided a keen insight into the cultural and social shifts happening in Australia. And in the end, with the bill passing comfortably through the parliament, the relief and joy were hard to deny.
One of the most significant events of the year was the First Nations’ Constitutional Convention at Uluru, and its “statement from the heart”, as Australia continues to search for meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous people. We can only hope that it is a priority for our leaders in 2018: it is an issue long overdue for reform.
Meanwhile, the world has been anxiously watching the exchanges between the United States and North Korea this year, particularly as Kim Jong-un launched provocative missile tests over Japan and Donald Trump launched provocative tweets from the White House.
As tensions ran high, we examined the nature of the North Korean threat and the US response to it, plus what role China plays – or ought to play – in it.
This has been a year of deep uncertainty in much of the world, with ongoing strife in Syria, Myanmar, Iraq and many other countries. In the Catalonian region of Spain, a separatist movement gained momentum and then receded. Few people would not be affected by the images of Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar across the border into Bangladesh. Amid great suffering and hardship, their future remains uncertain.
Elections in the UK and France yielded unexpected results, one way or another. This disrupted the idea that conservative populism was sweeping the globe, but reinforced the idea that electoral uncertainty was very much in vogue – as demonstrated by the rise of Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand.
Away from politics, our authors wrote about policy on transgender players in the AFL, the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, media reform and Rebel Wilson’s defamation case, among many other issues.
Elsewhere, Australia continues to grapple with uncomfortable truths about itself. The 600 refugee men being held on Manus Island were forcibly removed when the controversial camp closed down, amid deep concern over the men’s future health and safety. And while Australia claimed a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN Human Rights Committee slammed Australia’s record on the issue.
Finally, just as the year was drawing to a close, the ongoing controversy of allegations that Labor senator Sam Dastyari favoured Chinese interests resulted in him resigning from the parliament, and creating a wobbly couple of weeks for Labor ahead of the Bennelong byelection that may dog Opposition Leader Bill Shorten into the new year.
And while Malcolm Turnbull finished the year with a couple of wins under his belt, he too faces another challenging year in 2018.
In short, 2017 has felt like a chaotic year in Australian politics, and one in which policy progress has been swamped by other distractions. We can only hope that 2018 is calmer and more productive.
– Amanda Dunn, Editor, Politics + Society, and Michael Courts, Deputy Editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation
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