Dual citizenship and eligibility for parliament

The shock resignation of both Deputy Co-Leaders of the Australian Greens over dual citizenship kicked off bizarre scenes in Canberra. While the saga drags on, the Science Party has defined its views on section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution:

  • dual citizens should be eligible for nomination, and renounce their second citizenship if elected to federal parliament; and
  • dual citizenship of another country that was gained without the person's knowledge, if the person was not born there and did not apply for citizenship, should not be considered a breach of section 44(i).

See our full policy on dual citizenship for federal parliamentarians here.

What is Section 44(i)?

Under section 44(i), "any 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 shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting" in either the Senate or the House of Representatives.

This clause is currently interpreted as meaning that dual citizens are ineligible to be nominated or elected. Australian parliamentarians have previously been ruled ineligible, and therefore had to resign, when their dual citizenship status was discovered.

Interestingly, dual citizenship is no impediment to being elected to state or territory government.

Disqualification of dual citizens advantages major parties and disadvantages the Australian people

Dual citizens should be eligible to contest an election, and renounce their non-Australian citizenship if elected.

The number of Australians who hold dual citizenship is not precisely known. However, seven current parliamentarians were found to hold dual citizenship. This suggests that the dual citizen rule disqualifies a significant number of Australians from federal parliament. Some of these people may be the best person for the job. 

The rule also advantages major parties, which can simply find another nominee if one turns out to be a dual citizen. For smaller parties, the rule can make the difference between fielding a candidate in a seat, or not. 

Can you really be a dual citizen without knowing it?

The citizenship laws of some countries confer citizenship on children born in another country to a parent who is a citizen. These laws can, and do, lead to people being dual nationals while having no knowledge of it or any reason to suspect it.

What should our dual-citizen parliamentarians do?

Citizenship is an imperfect indicator of "allegiance to a foreign power". Many people hold a second passport for practical reasons without considering themselves loyal subjects of another country. Others may have strong links to another country without holding citizenship of that country.

However, dual citizenship is clearly regarded as a breach of section 44(i). While this interpretation remains, current federal parliamentarians found to hold dual citizenship must be held to the same standard as past parliamentarians, and resign.

The Science Party seeks constitutional changes that would take effect from the following federal election. Parliamentarians should be required to renounce citizenship of any other country upon election, or immediately if they become aware of it during their term. This is fairer for the elected representative and less disruptive than resigning from parliament.

 

See more analysis of the situation from psephologist Antony Green here.


 

AMENDMENT 27/10/17: "Constitutional" was added to the sentence, "The Science Party seeks constitutional changes". 

 

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