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Who is afraid of dual citizens?

A Pandora's box is now open in both houses, where senators and MPs are trying to prove they are not elephants, that they are, indeed Australians, patriots, not prone to giving their love of their country away to other countries

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Photo: AAP/Dan Peled

31 July 2017

Here is an old rule of journalism: whenever something happens once, it is recorded as a 'phenomenon'; if it happens twice, it becomes a 'trend'; by the time of its third occurrence, it is a law of nature. This is where we stand now, regarding Australian politicians oblivious to both the Constitution, and their own citizenship status. It is perfectly legitimate to consider this kind of ignorance as a natural law. After Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlum, who resigned from their Senate seats after they found out they are holders of dual citizenship (Canadian and New Zealand, respectively), the third time was the charm, with the case of Minister of Resources and North Australia, Matt Canavan, who resigned from the cabinet, but not from parliament, when he found out that he is also an Italian citizen. The (now former) minister told reporters on Tuesday night his mother had applied for Italian citizenship on his behalf without his knowledge or consent when he was 25 years old, in January 2007.

This incident alone would suffice to showcase the ridiculousness of the whole issue. And by that, we don't only mean the cringe-worthy statement of an adult blaming his mother for something that happened when he was already an adult. What is ridiculous is the fact that a Pandora's box is now open in both houses, where senators and MPs are trying to prove they are not elephants, that they are, indeed Australians, patriots, not prone to giving their love of their country away to other countries. It's still a wonder how it is ever possible for elected officials to have failed so miserably on their basic civics lessons, the constitution section which prevents dual citizens from being elected. Section 44 could not be clearer: "Any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power [...] shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives."

It is also a wonder how it is ever possible for adults - who want to represent their fellow citizens, no less - to be oblivious of their own "adherence to a foreign power." And here lies the true problem. Because this kind of ignorance is exactly possible due to the complexity of the relevant legislation, subject as it is to changes over the years, in both countries it affects. Which, in its turn, showcases the flawed character of Section 44. Declaring one's loyalty to one country, when they want to represent their citizens may seem the fair and sensible thing to do, but in reality we live in a very complex environment. It is not by accident that new Australian citizens are no longer required to renounce foreign allegiances during citizenship ceremonies, but instead to simply declare their 'loyalty' to Australia. Section 44 effectively divides the people of Australia, labelling dual citizens as 'second-class citizens', insinuating that their connection to other countries might undermine their loyalty to Australia. This is a relic of 'White Australia' (itself a creation of a third country, who still provides us with the state leader, but let's not open this can of worms), a section that ignores the multicultural nature of the country, its reality for the past 40 years. It is also a section that effectively undermines democracy itself. What kind of representative democracy does Australia have, when the representatives of people who are in large part dual citizens, are called to renounce their own dual citizenship? If behind of all that lies a fear of the danger of treason and espionnage, the issue once again steers towards the ludicrous; spies and traitors do not need legal documents to make them do the job. But there is also a fine line which separates the ludicrous from the dangerous.

Now that the 'dual citizenship politicians' phenomenon is becoming a 'law of nature' there is a very possible danger of other resignations, which will change the country's political personnell, not because the people wished for it, but precisely despite their wishes and choices and votes, due to a stale section of the constitution. Before we start getting out the 'patriot-o-meters' and before this escalates to a modern-day witch hunt, citizens should mobilise. They should ask their representatives to change the constitution to better reflect reality. They should also turn to the various ethnic communities. Now is the time for their leaderships to step up. Before we normalise the existence of second-class Australians.

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