THE government would have us believe there’s really no fundamental difficulty with the citizenship provision in the constitution, which has cut a swathe through the federal parliament. It is just a matter of not being […]
IT is not the end of the world as we know it. The idea that we have a government in crisis is simply nonsense.
Perhaps a few will lose their seats because they did not understand how Section 44 of the Constitution might apply. Accusations of an “illegitimate government” or “illegitimate ministers” might be fun as political rhetoric, but they harm the parliament more than the party in power.
Worst-case scenario – minority government. Apart from one or two occasions in the last few decades, governments have not had a majority in the Senate. Labor, under Prime Minister Julia Gillard had minorities in both houses of parliament. Her boast was getting more legislation through parliament than any previous government.
The last sitting week in parliament simply played into the hands of populist thinking. Labor put aside debate on important issues in favour of political opportunism confident their own screening would protect them from Section 44. With their Deputy Prime Minister under a shadow, the government responded with the best form of defence, attack.
However, using Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as the attack dog was never going to work. Over nearly 20 years in the Federal Parliament she has carefully projected the thoughtful, intelligent, hard-working image of someone who cares. It was simply poor judgement that made the atrocious call of suggesting “treachery”. Labor was on the attack. The government was cornered and returned the fire. The parliament was turned into a farce by both major parties. Important issues of the fortnight simply disappeared.
The earlier stance taken by the Greens highlighted the farce of the major parties. Senators Ludlum and Waters simply stepped down. No fighting. As difficult as it was for them and for the Greens it was clear that some of our elected representatives were prepared to “do the right thing”. The same dissatisfaction and distrust of the current power structures is what many commentators see as behind the election of Donald Trump and the “Brexit” outcome. The August sitting weeks of 2017 simply threw fuel on the populists’ fire. The major parties are burnt by the debacle.
Surprisingly, the saving grace for the week came from one of the government’s usual “attack dogs”, Attorney-General Senator George Brandis.
He calmly pointed out that Section 44 of the Constitution might be read more widely by the High Court than the original decision that resulted in Ms Heather Hill, from Queensland, losing her position as Senator due to dual citizenship. Brandis argued a difference between the Greens being born overseas and the case of Barnaby Joyce.
The thrust of the Brandis argument is that a normal person in Barnaby Joyce’s position could not be expected to know that he would be considered a New Zealand citizen. The same argument may well apply to Senator Nash who revealed in the last moments of the sitting that she had asked the British Home Office for its view of her citizenship.
She explained: “I was born in Sydney in 1965. My parents divorced when I was eight and my mother raised me. I had very little contact with my father throughout his life.”
Her argument was that, in searching the internet, there are a host of websites that argue that a British father means that a person can “apply for citizenship”. As George Brandis explained, havoc could be wreaked with the possibility that a foreign country could simply declare that any descendant, no matter how far back, is a citizen of their country. Should someone whose great-great grandfather came from such a country in the mid-1800s, for example, be expected to know and take action to renounce that citizenship? The decision for the High Court is judging where the line should be drawn.
On the politics of the sitting, George Brandis’ defence of Muslim people following the burqa stunt from Pauline Hanson on the last day, and Labor’s supportive reaction, did provide hope that the major parties just might be able to get their act together.