Every Australian would expect that our elected representatives could accurately fill in a form in English. It is laughable to think otherwise, especially when the Turnbull Government is insisting that migrants from non-English speaking countries pass a university standard English test before they are given the privilege of voting for them.
Australia is a representative democracy. Australian citizens have the privilege and obligation to vote in elections to determine our governing representatives.
The Turnbull Government’s proposed changes to the citizenship laws require migrants to undertake and pass a university standard English test before being granted Australian citizenship, and consequently the eligibility to vote.
It is ironic that at the same time the Government is tightening up requirements for Australian citizenship, it finds its own members have acquired citizenship from other countries without even knowing it.
The Australian Constitution has governed Australian democracy since 1 January 1901. Prior to the current 45th Parliament, only five parliamentarians have lost their seats due to Constitutional ineligibility.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 provides some basic rules for eligibility as a political candidate. They must be:-
- at least 18 years of age;
- an Australian citizen; and
- enrolled or eligible to be enrolled on the Commonwealth electoral roll.
But it is section 44 of the Australian Constitution that provides for conditions that will disqualify a Member of the House of Representatives or a Senator. It is this section that has, since the 2016 election, seen eight Senators and one Member of the House of Representatives referred, or about to be referred, to the High Court.
Section 44(i) is currently causing the most angst. This section provides that our parliamentary representatives be free of any allegiance to a foreign power. The High Court has held that dual citizenship with Australia and another country will fall foul of this section.
Candidates must renounce any foreign citizenship prior to nominating for an election.
While this seems straightforward, what has become apparent over the last weeks and months is that not all candidates are aware that they hold dual citizenship.
It is not Australian law that determines whether an Australian citizen holds citizenship of another country; it is the law of that other country.
All candidates are aware of these provisions before nominating. The 2016 Candidates Handbook on pages 12 to 14 explains in detail the eligibility requirements, including the issue of foreign citizenship. All candidates are required to sign a declaration on their nomination form that they are qualified to stand as a candidate.
It is incumbent upon the candidate to make inquiries about their own ancestry and determine if they are entitled to citizenship of another country.
There are a disproportionate number of Queenslanders amongst the latest referrals; Senator Canavan from the National Party, Senator Roberts from One Nation Party and Senator Waters from the Greens. All of these political parties have been around a long time; the Nationals for more than 90 years; the Greens for more than 30 years and One Nation for more than 20 years. All long enough to understand the importance of the Constitution.
While the High Court processes the referrals; and Parliament works its way through the minefield of possible consequences if any of these Senators or Member is disqualified; there are calls for the Constitution to be amended.
It is no easy task to change the Constitution. It would require a referendum. Only eight out of 44 referendums held in Australia have been successful. It is unlikely that changing this section of the Constitution is going to be a priority, or should be a priority, for any government soon.
In the meantime, the Turnbull Government expects migrants to complete a university standard English test before they allow them Australian citizenship. It surely is not too much to ask that Government Members and Senators can read a Candidate Handbook, do their own due diligence and accurately fill in a nomination form before they are given the privilege of governing.