The current debate around citizenship that is lingering in the Australian political discourse stems from a section of the constitution that should have been removed years ago. The question about citizenship is essentially a masked point about loyalty to the people of Australia. Not only is this unjustifiable mistrust of the perceived ‘Other’ harmful to the fabric of society, the examples of recent weeks illustrate how this section of the constitution has been disruptive to Australian public life in a way that is highly ironic given one of the purposes of such a provision.
The purpose of the citizenship provision of the constitution is essentially to guarantee that those in elected office are working on behalf of the Australian people. Considering that Australia is a former colonial possession of Britain there is a part of me that understand why some people want to maintain the constitutional status quo. However in truth the record of those caught violating this rule demonstrates how pointless such a restriction is.
Take the example of Larissa Waters of the Green Party who was forced to resign from her position in the Senate because of her dual Australian-Canadian citizenship. In her six years in the Senate she has led campaigns both inside and outside of Canberra to axe the tampon tax, protect coral reefs and highlighted the threats to services for victims of domestic violence. According to TheyWorkForYou.org.au, Waters has consistently voted to support the rights of trade unions, to increase the land rights for Aboriginal Australians and restrict the foreign ownership of key industries by wealthy individuals and companies if it violated the Australian national interest.
Would the actions of Waters in these areas be those of someone seeking to be disloyal to the Australian people, or boost Canada’s power or influence at Australia’s expense? I hardly think so. In all of the above examples Waters clearly acted to serve the interests of the Australian people, and in the case of some of her votes sought to support some of the most vulnerable people in society. She stood for public office in order to be an advocate for her constituents and to make society better but the current constitution has prevented her from continuing her work for a totally arbitrary reason.
The ironic point that I alluded to earlier is that the fallout from these political conversations has achieved what a disloyal political actor would have wanted. If somebody wished to infiltrate the Australian political system whilst being loyal to another state they would seek to disrupt Australian policy making. This provision of the constitution has achieved this goal as all these resignations have made this issue one of the most spoken of in national politics.
Additionally, Subsection 44(i) has disqualified so many MPs and Senators that current government is hanging on by their fingernails and the investigations about Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce caused a mini diplomatic incident between Australia and New Zealand. Further the press, rather that focus on holding ministers to account on issues of policy, have jumped on the sensationalist bandwagon by diverting resources to find out if any other elected officials fall foul of this rule. This constitutional provision has succeeded in weakening Australian democracy.
To conclude, the constitutional crisis that has unfolded in recent months is totally arbitrary and unnecessary. The constitution should be amended to allow dual citizens to serve as elected officials because the actions of people are much more important than a piece of paper. I would hazard to bet that most Australians don’t actually care whether or not their representatives are exclusively Australian citizens. At the end of the day elected officials are their to work on behalf of their constituents to improve Australia for all. The litmus test for office must be whether or not they are still committed to that end.