Time for a different constitutional crisis

American readers appear to have been having an unwelcome level of excitement in their politics over the past 24+ hours. Trump attacking the rights of transgender people to serve in the military, a new Whitehouse director saying some very strange things, the Whitehouse chief of staff being sacked via Twitter and, of course, a nail biting vote on the repeal of Obamacare which failed due to sensible people standing firm, two Republicans using their common sense through a series of votes and finally John McCain doing whatever that thing is he does.

Frankly, that is way too much excitement for one day.

To ease you all down gently, here is a softer story of a constitutional crisis in Australia. Nobody gets hurt and nobody suddenly finds themselves stripped of health care or marginalised. Still weird though.

It all started on July 18, a senator (a member of Australia’s upper house of parliament) for the Green Party announced his resignation. Scott Ludlam had discovered that he had dual citizenship with New Zealand. He had been born in NZ, move to Australia when he was three and later naturalised as an Australia – at which point he had thought he had lost his NZ citizenship. As it happened, he hadn’t and as the Australian Constitution implicitly does not allow dual citizens to stand for election (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_44_of_the_Constitution_of_Australia#.28i.29_Allegiance_to_a_foreign_power ). Oh well, people thought, easy mistake to make and also it was a Green etc. The Green Party looked a little silly for not checking these things out and politics moved on…

…for a couple of days, when a second Green’s senator resigned. Larissa Waters had thought she’d better double check her citizenship status after Scott Ludlam had resigned. Waters was Australian by birth as both her parents were Australian but she had been born in Canada and moved back to Australia when she was a baby. Unfortunately for Waters due to a change in Canadian citizenship rules shortly before she was born, she was actually a Canadian citizen as well as an Australian one. Oops. Well, now the Green Party looked extra silly – they only had 7 senators and to lose two, in the same way, began to look like carelessness. The rival parties made much mockery of the poor Greens and then politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when A GOVERNMENT MINISTER stepped down. Matt Canavan hasn’t resigned from Parliament yet, but this member of the National Party (the lesser half of the right-wing coalition with the Liberal Party) had also discovered that he was a dual citizen. Of course, this time the story went up a notch. Canavan was apparently accidentally Italian. Canavan claims no direct ties to Italy and has never visited the country but his mother applied for Italian citizenship back when Canavan was 25. Canavan claims that when she did so, she also applied for citizenship for him as well but forgot to tell him. Consequently, although he had never asked for citizenship, he was in fact, an Italian citizen.

Well, as you can imagine, having suffered much mockery in the previous few days, the Green Party were somewhat miffed that Canavan had not resigned from Parliament. The Liberal and National Party had to switch arguments and claim that maybe this whole dual citizen thing was a misunderstanding of what the Constitution said and also Canavan was only accidentally Italian and really that could happen to anybody. Who hasn’t maybe tripped on a piece of loose carpet and suddenly found themselves becoming Italian. Of course all these middle-class politicians and their cosmopolitan ways and their dual citizenship, just the sort of thing to stir up Australia’s nativist, anti-immigrant right. Nothing says ‘far right’ in Australian Parliamentary Politics as much as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party – what finer example could they have of how the traditional parties were literally unAustralian! Politics move on…

…for a couple of days, when Senator, climate-change denier, and all round wingnut Malcolm Roberts of the One Nation Party found himself busy trying to clarify to everybody whether he was or wasn’t a dual citizen. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/jul/27/one-nation-malcolm-roberts-choosing-to-believe-he-was-never-british

In Roberts’s case, the issue had been looked at before – Roberts’s father was Welsh and his mother was Australian and Roberts himself had been born in India. His story has changed over time and remains inconsistent but it does appear that while he might not be a dual citizen now, he may have still been one when he was nominated (and therefore not eligible).

And now, in retrospect, Scott Ludlam’s resignation is transformed from silly-Green-who-should-have-checked to canny-political-move-by-a-minor-party. In modern Australia, the rule against dual citizens serving in Parliament looks antiquated and silly. All the significant political parties (including some minor ones) has elected members with immigrant backgrounds. Two recent Prime Ministers (Julia Gillard and Tony Abbot) were not Australian born (both did renounce their British citizenship though). So, by getting ahead of the issue, the Greens have successfully pushed the other parties to look into the issue.

More importantly, the Greens also highlighted a kind of spectrum of honesty. The Green senators resigned of their own volition as soon as they identified the problem. The (moderate right) National Party MP, on the other hand, has only resigned his cabinet position and is offering a somewhat less plausible story. Meanwhile, the far-right senator is only discussing the issue because the press is looking into it and can’t keep his story straight.

And that is my story for the day.

17 responses to “Time for a different constitutional crisis”

  1. 24 hours? More like six months. But staying up late to see if people were going to be stripped of healthcare made today drag though.

    Reality TV drama in our politics sucks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The no dual citizenship thingy is pretty dumb — particularly when you were a little kid.

    When you’re 25, though, no excuse. Particularly as I suspect when you’re 25, you likely have to sign things, not just have your mum get it for you and “forget to mention it”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, either he’s a blatant liar, or his mom is a forger who fraudulently submitted a citizenship document on his behalf and should be prosecuted, because there’s no way that document didn’t require a signature from a 25-year-old adult applicant. 🙄

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m not a fan of dual citizenship bans (Germany is currently considering tightening dual citizenship rules again only approx. 15 years after they loosened them, because some of our dual Turkish German citizens voted in ways the German government did not like), but I understand how it could be problematic for people in higher political offices. E.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who still holds Austrian citizenship in addition to the US citizenship he acquired later, could have made off with the California treasury, when he was governor, and fled to Austria and the US would have no chance of getting him (and the treasury) back, because Austria does not extradite citizens.

    There’s also the potential issue of loyalty conflicts in cases of wars breaking out, though a war between Australia and Italy or Australia and Canada or Australia and New Zealand or California and Austria for that matter is rather unlikely.

    Coincidentally, the late sociologist Lord Ralf Dahrendorf was not just a dual British and German citizen at a time, when dual citizenship was theoretically illegal for lesser beings, but also a member of the British House of Lords after having been politically active in Germany as a member of the liberal party FDP. Oddly enough, this bothered no one, probably because Dahrendorf was an educated white dude turned British lord. Supposedly, also no one in Britain expected that he would try to make off with the treasury or the crown jewels. Cause if he had, good luck trying to get him back, cause Germany doesn’t extradite citizens either.

    Due to odd citizenship laws, it can also happen to accidentally acquire a citizenship you don’t know you have, e.g. some countries automatically grant citizenship to anybody born on their territory, including during holidays, brief stopovers and onboard of airplanes. At school, I had a friend, son of a Romanian father and a German mother who’d met while studying in Sweden and had a baby there, who had a triple German, Romanian and Swedish citizenship. When the German state forced him to choose one of those citzenships, when he turned eighteen, he chose Sweden, even though he neither spoke Swedish nor could remember living there. Meanwhile, other countries won’t grant their citizenship to children of foreigners who have lived there for decades, except upon request, but will grant their citizenship to someone whose ancestors lived there centuries back. Germany was like this until the early 2000s.

    I apparently narrowly missed having dual German and Dutch citizenship, which I did not know until recently. I could probably still apply for French citizenship, if I wanted, due to a French great-grandfather, who probably would never have considered himself French (he hailed from the Alsace region, which has been disputed between France and Germany for centuries – however, the village he came from is German speaking to this day).

    So in short, it’s really complicated, especially with immigration countries like Australia.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Looks like Boris Johnson has finally relinquished his US citizenship (he was born in New York), otherwise the British Foreign Secretary would have had to enter the US on a non-British passport which would be clearly absurd. Even for Boris.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, in that case he could get into the “US citizens only” queue at US immigration, where the officers are supposedly friendlier. But since he’s a politician, he gets VIP treatment anyway.

      Coincidentally, certain Americans – at least those from Seattle – are really bad at grasping that a line marked “EU passports” really means EU citizens only and that the US is not part of the EU. Though I’ve also seen a Swiss citizen getting into the EU line and being sent back to get in the correct line, since UK immigration isn’t as nice as the Dutch folks, who usually let the errant citizens of Seattle through.


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