An outbreak of ineligibility

Simon Cowan

25 August 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

SC outbreak disease controlIt was only just over a month ago that Scott Ludlam, co-deputy leader of the Greens, was exposed as a reluctant Kiwi. Since then, an epidemic of dual citizenship has broken out, with seven confirmed cases and a number of others showing early symptoms.

There remains the possibility that the High Court will inoculate parliamentary dual citizens against their constitutionally determined fate. However given the clear wording of section 44 of the Constitution, this would much more closely resemble witchcraft than medical science.

Turnbull remains confident — but if his faith healing fails, what’s next? It would be foolish to assume there will be no more cases; and even if parliament is completely cured, another outbreak of politicians thinking they are above the rules is likely at any time.

This is not merely a legal issue. The High Court decided in 1907 that the presence of a Senator or MP who is subsequently found to be ineligible to have been chosen does not invalidate legislation passed that relies on their vote. However this legal technicality should not limit ethical questions being asked of a politician continuing to vote while aware they are likely to be found ineligible.

Losing one or two politicians could be put down to individual or party issues with vetting or carelessness. The fact that so many politicians have now confirmed they have a problem suggests a system-wide response is needed.

First, rid the body politic of the virus: a commission of inquiry should be established to identify all the politicians with a potential case to answer. They should then be referred en masse to the High Court to be dealt with as soon as possible.

Second, vaccinate the system against further outbreaks. The AEC should be tasked with conducting a desktop review of all newly elected politicians prior to them taking up positions in parliament. This shouldn’t take long or be expensive, as any substantive cases would be dealt with by the High Court, not the AEC.

This situation does not yet warrant ‘hospitalisation’ of parliament, as suggested by Bernardi, or a fresh election. However, if left untreated it could further deepen the loss of trust in the political class. It’s time for the politicians to take their medicine.

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