Section 44 is a question of loyalty

Simon Cowan

11 May 2018 | ideas@thecentre

Another five politicians have bitten the dust over their questionable dual citizenship status. Of course such dust-biting may well be temporary: four of the five will face by-elections and, other than the Xenophon representative, they may well win and return to parliament.

With each new tranche of politicians found to be ineligible, calls have increased to amend or abolish section 44. In a multicultural country like Australia, they claim it is unfair to expect people to know they are dual citizens or revoke their citizenship connection to their parents or grandparents home.

Australia is backwards for having a prohibition in our constitution banning dual citizens from being elected, they add.

It is telling that many are also criticising the High Court for not resolving the issue and allowing the (now approaching 20) ineligible politicians to stay in parliament.

It is telling because those advocating change suspect the public will give the reform proposals the short shift they deserve.

Citizenship is an important concept, bestowing both rights and obligations. It is much more than just the ability to get a passport. It is a formal connection of loyalty.

The Constitution actually asks relatively little of Australians seeking to be elected to parliament. One thing that it does ask is that they rid themselves of any allegiances that may give them divided loyalties.

Few people believe that it would be okay for Australian parliamentarians to have genuine loyalty to other countries — so what then do we replace section 44 with?

The Constitution cannot be subjective: it must be a set of rules that everyone can understand in advance. It cannot seek to divine whether someone who has dual citizenship has a ‘real’ loyalty or not. In that sense the High Court got it exactly right every time it has been asked on this issue. The rules are the rules for everyone.

People who sit in Australia’s parliament must be loyal to Australians alone and must be seen to be ‘in it together’ with the rest of us. It’s long past time for the people who set the rules to start playing by them, like the rest of us have to.

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