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Question Time is about to become quieter

Federal parliament... how many decisions are in jeopardy?
Federal parliament... how many decisions are in jeopardy?

Question Time could become a whole lot quieter with the continuation of the Salem style witch-hunt being undertaken within our Federal Parliament.

If Section 44 of the Australian Constitution was to be applied rigorously as it is written, no Australian citizen could actually apply as a candidate for the Australian Federal Parliament. The Constitution states in Section 44 (i): "Any person who is under acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or is a subject or a citizen entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power."

Should a country, such as North Korea, decide to allow Australians the rights of their citizens, then all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate would be rendered incapable of sitting in Federal Parliament and nobody would be capable of being elected into either house of Parliament to replace them.

While the likelihood of this happening in North Korea is rather slim, with Kim Jong-Un at the helm, it has happened with New Zealand. Australians are now afforded the same rights and privileges as New Zealand citizens under recent amendments to the country's citizenship laws.

Australian citizens can now live, study or work in New Zealand without a visa and they are entitled to the same rights and privileges as a subject of the Land of the Long White Cloud. Similarly, other countries could afford Australians similar rights and privileges, which make the subsection of the Constitution unworkable if applied to all Australians.

According to the Australian Electoral Commission's candidates handbook, those applying for candidature who are found to give "false or misleading information" or to "omit any information that would be misleading" are committing a criminal offence, with the maximum penalty for this offence listed as imprisonment for 12 months.

It is yet to be seen whether such stringent punishment will be applied to the five members of parliament found to be in breach of s 44 (i) and whether any of their parliamentary benefits or the decisions they were involved in could be reverted or challenged.

According to some legal opinion, more than 100 Turnbull Government decisions are vulnerable to legal challenge as a result of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce MP and Senator Fiona Nash's dual citizenship status, with lawyers concluding there is a high likelihood the work the pair have done over the last year will be end up before the courts.

Australia is one of the few countries that upholds strict citizenship rules for its Federal Parliamentarians. New Zealand, Canada, the British Parliament and the United States Congress do not forbid their members to be dual citizens.

It seems odd that in a globalised world that such rules are applicable and have weight. The 2016 census reported that 49% of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas.

This statistic shows how s 44 (i) is a relic of a bygone age with potentially half of the Australian population not eligible to run for Federal Parliament.

The Constitution was written in a world where under the Commonwealth, everyone was subject of the Queen and there was far less potential for anyone to be subject or to have any other allegiance with another foreign power. The world has changed, but the Constitution has not.

It seems absurd that someone born in Australia or born of Australian parents who were temporarily overseas cannot stand for parliament without the worry that the law of a foreign country or international laws may deem their rights as an Australian citizen invalid.

It is also ludicrous that someone who has sworn at a citizenship ceremony that their allegiance is to Australia, cannot stand for Parliament without the worry that the laws of a foreign country or international law may supersede or displace this right.

As it seems almost an impossibility to strictly apply s 44 (i) of the Constitution, a referendum should be implemented to change it so that our Constitution reflects modern Australia and its diverse people. This issue will not go away and it has the potential to bring down the government if not rectified.

Topics:  dual citizenship new zealand opinion politics question time


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