Sick of the citizenship farce? You’re not alone. Since July, hardly a day has passed when the constitutional crisis around the citizenship status of our members of parliament has not been front and centre.
The latest to fall foul of section 44 is Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie, whose resignation came the day after a deal was brokered between Labor and the Coalition to try to see a way out of the crisis.
That deal would require all MPs to register their citizenship status by December 1. If they register falsely, they could be found to have misled the parliament. It works in much the same way as the register of interests and gifts and relies on MPs to self-declare, something they’ve failed to do correctly on numerous occasions.
Add the complexity of the citizenship trap which so many MPs have failed to navigate and the register seems far from failsafe.
And what if the register turns up a raft of MPs who are disqualified? Will we see a string of costly, distracting by-elections until the government loses its grip on power?
There is a strong argument for pressing the reset button with a general election, subjecting all candidates to rigorous independent citizenship audits before they take up their seats. We simply cannot afford to have doubts linger over the legitimacy of the parliament and its members.
We understand the citizenship issue has been taking its toll on our local member, Ann Sudmalis. She was named on Monday as one of the Coalition MPs Labor would target if its own members were referred to the High Court by the government. While Mrs Sudmalis is adamant she is not a dual citizen, she is in fact entitled to UK citizenship through maternal descent. It is not automatic, however. She has to apply, provide character references and attend a ceremony to have it confirmed.
And there is no doubt she has right of abode in the UK – and can claim welfare and even run for parliament there. All she has to do is apply.
Interpreting section 44 requires legal expertise way beyond the capacities of most of our parliamentarians. The electorate cannot be expected to buy the arguments of politicians who say they’re in the clear then are shown not to be.
To move beyond this farce, we first need a parliament whose legitimacy is assured. Then we need to talk about bringing our constitution up to date so it reflects our 21st century society.