Did you hear the one about Senator Richard Di Natali approaching the Deep Thought super-computer and asking what’s the answer to the ultimate question of life, universe and everything – and Deep Thought saying “44. Section 44.”?
No? That’s because I just put on my dad cap and came up with it (for the non-Const Law nerds, section 44 of the Constitution states, among other things, that a person who “is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power” is ineligible to sit in the federal parliament).
OK, I do actually feel sorry for the until-recently Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters. I might disagree with probably just about every policy position they represented, but to end one’s political career, the pinnacle of every activist’s life, because of a technicality and not a defeat or a retirement – that hurts. And gives me as much satisfaction as catching Al Capone on tax evasion charges.
While I am sorry for Ludlam and Waters, their mistake is not just stupid but very basic. It’s Politics 101; anyone who’s been interested and/or involved in politics knows that you cannot run for office if you have a dual citizenship (and therefore dual allegiance – to Australia, and to another state, which allegiances and loyalties might come to conflict and clash, affecting your ability to exercise your powers as an elected representative in the sole interest of the Australian people). I have a dual Australian and Polish citizenship; I also have no plans to run for any office – but I always knew that if I ever wanted to I would have to renounce my Polish citizenship first. It’s not rocket science, and intelligent people like Ludlam and Waters should have assured themselves beyond any doubt as to their status. It would be worse, of course, if either or both knew and chose to disregard that information on the basis that it’s a minor matter that will never come up (they both deny that).
Two more Green Senators have been born overseas – both from Tasmania, coincidentally – Peter Whish-Wilson in Singapore and Nick McKim in the United Kingdom. The Greens must be praying (to Gaia? the Goddess?) that both Peter and Nick have relinquished any extra citizenships they might have had by virtue of their birth places.
Senator Lee Rhiannon, who is suspected of having engineered the leak against Ludlam, is someone, who as a member of the Communist Party of Australia and then the breakaway Socialist Party of Australia, has for most of her life owned a conflicting allegiance to Moscow. Lucky for Rhiannon that the Soviet Union does not exist as a country anymore. I could be flippant (or even more flippant) now and say that the Greens as a whole have a dual allegiance problem: to Australia and to, depending how you want to look at it, Mother Earth, the humanity, or Fairyland. These allegiances very often clash, resulting in actions that are in my humble opinion not in the interest of Australia or her people. But I won’t.
What shall we do then about section 44?
There is an argument that in our increasingly globalised, cosmopolitan and interconnected world the question of multiple citizenships and allegiances is an outdated way to think about eligibility for an elected office. Others, cynics, might say that a citizenship is just a piece of paper and renouncing another passport in no way guarantees that the person won’t consider himself or herself still attached to and supportive of their other/previous home. And it’s not just a matter of nation states – until a few decades ago, Catholic politicians used to be distrusted by a large section of the population who suspected them of a dual allegiance to Vatican. Today, someone (again, not me) might yet ask politicians of Islamic faith whether their primary loyalty is to their country or to the Muslim ummah.
Still others will argue the case for constitutionally disregarding a second citizenship if it’s of a fellow English-speaking democracy (certainly the United Kingdom) or any developed democracy for that matter.
Lastly, many no doubt would say that section 44 should stay as is, and it’s no reason to amend it just because a few politicians seems to have fallen foul of it. After all, unlike the American laws pertaining to the office of President and Vice-President, it does not prevent those born oversees seeking elected office. And, apart from the question of loyalties, it can also arguably prevent some potential jurisdictional troubles for Australian parliamentarians traveling overseas.
Whatever the answer – and I suspect it will be the status quo, considering the pain of amending the constitution – I doubt whether Ludlam and Waters are the only ones affected. There must be a few nervous parliamentarians at the moment double-checking their citizenship status. Personally, and I say this as unflippantly as I can, I am less concerned about the dual allegiance to New Zealand than I am to Fairyland.