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.