Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had announced an inquiry into section 44 of the Constitution in another attempt to end the ongoing crisis over dual citizenship.
With senators due to report their citizenship status by Friday, and MPs to reveal theirs next week, Turnbull says he’s asked the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) “to examine how our electoral laws can be improved to minimise the risk of candidates being found to be ineligible in the future and what, if any, changes should be made to section 44(i) of the constitution”.
He also wants the JSCEM to review the operation of section 44 as a whole. It has series of rules around how would-be politicians interact financially with the state in an attempt to minimise corruption and other conflicts of interest.
The dual citizenship clause sees Nationals leader and former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce standing in a by-election for his old seat of New England this weekend after he was ruled ineligible to stand for Parliament by the High Court because he was a dual Australian-New Zealand citizen when he was a candidate at last year’s election.
His father was born in New Zealand.
Former Bennelong Liberal MP John Alexander is also currently on the campaign trail after resigning earlier this month because his late father was born in Britain and it’s likely his tennis player son is also a dual citizenship by descent. Alexander faces the ballot box and it looks like the race is tightening after Labor made former NSW premier Kristina Keneally its candidate.
Last month the High Court ruled five senators were ineligible to stand at the 2016 federal election — Joyce, Nationals senator Fiona Nash and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, along with two former Greens senators — because they were dual citizens.
Senate President Stephen Parry subsequently resigned because his father was British, and Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie also quit earlier this month because her father is Scottish and she too had UK citizenship by descent.
But the farce continued when Nash’s replacement, Hollie Hughes, was ruled out by the High Court because she’d taken a government job after missing out on a senate seat, but was subsequently ruled to have been in breach of part iv of Section 44, which says anyone who holds any office of profit under the Crown can’t enter politics.
Doubts still hang over others and some of those are yet to be considered by the court.
Turnbull said the country expects the government “to resolve the citizenship issue once and for all” announcing the inquiry today.
“The government has already acted to resolve the citizenship issues affecting the current Parliament. This inquiry will help us ensure similar issues do not affect future Parliaments,” he said.
But as Business Insider pointed out recently, the issue has been ongoing for at least 40 years, and several parliamentary investigations over those decades have all called for change.
The challenge for Turnbull and the government is that change can only come via referendum and the fiasco of the last five months has created the public perception that politicians are only acting now to save the government’s skin as it tries to cling on to a one seat majority in the House of Representatives.
In that climate, the idea that a majority of the voting public will give MPs what they want — even if they agree that the dual citizenship laws are too restrictive and knocking out some good people in Canberra — is a big sell.
Change to the Constitution requires a “double majority” — a majority of people in a majority of states and a majority of people across the nation as a whole, to vote “Yes”.
But then it worked for marriage equality, and in this instance, you know everyone in Canberra is likely to be advocating on the Yes side.
The terms of reference for the inquiry can be found here.
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