Political Instability And The Citizenship Crisis

Ok so I’m back in action with the blog. I’m glad to say that I’ll be able to invest a bit more time in this now, and that means posts should be more regular. So, in saying that, let’s get down to business.

In recent times in Australia, there has been an instability in the government. And I’m sure that many of you have heard of the recent citizenship crisis within Parliament, but that’s not where the instability began. It wasn’t when Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, it wasn’t when Labor lost the election and government to the Liberal National Party. And it wasn’t even when we had the turnaround in government leaders when the Labor Party was still in government, that is, the infamous Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government. In reality, it all really started when Kevin Rudd and his Labor Party took the government from the Howard Liberal Party. Although if you looked at it more closely, you could even argue that the instability all began when John Howard decided to lead the government to the election that left him without government and without a seat, instead of enabling Peter Costello, the last treasurer in Australia to have positively affected our economy and taken us into surplus, to lead the Liberal Party instead in the 2007 election that saw Kevin Rudd gain the government. However, whatever started it ultimately led to what we have here today, a very unstable government.

The instability in our government is not great. I mean, that’s fairly obvious to anyone really. But the issue is that, due to such an unstable government, we are seeing so many more issues arise than ever before. And the even bigger issue that is created as a result of this is that nothing is actually being achieved in Parliament because of all the ‘distractive issues’. In recent times, there have been issues with the NBN, energy, electricity, immigration, and many others, but these have not been able to be resolved, because another has stood in their way: the citizenship crisis.

The citizenship crisis began earlier this year, when a barrister happened upon finding now former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in the Nee Zealand Registry. He advised former Senator Ludlam’s people of the fact that he was registered as a citizen of New Zealand, considered to be a foreign power, ultimately meaning that under Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, which relates to dual-citizenship, and results in any individual who is a dual citizen being considered ineligible to run for and/or be elected to office in the Australian Parliament/Senate. Upon discovering this, former Senator Ludlam resigned from the Senate and from his position as co-Deputy Leader of the Greens, however it was just the beginning of a storm that hit a range of parties in Australian Parliament.

In the days, weeks and months that followed Scott Ludlam’s dual-citizenship discovery and his subsequent resignation, many more politicians/Parliamentarians were affected. The storm of Section 44 had well and truly awoken. The other Greens Deputy Leader, former Senator Larissa Waters, discovered she had Canadian citizenship, and resigned from her positions. LNP Senator Matt Canavan discovered he could be an Italian citizen, and so, at the advice of Malcolm Turnbull, resigned from his position in the Cabinet, however, he was one of the two Senators to be found to not be ineligible as a result of Section 44, and subsequently was sworn back in to the Cabinet. Former Senator Malcolm Roberts, part of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, discovered he was British, however, he claimed to have renounced it as soon as he found out before the federal election last year. Staying with the Senate, Deputy Leader of the Nationals Party former Senator Fiona Nash discovered she was a dual citizen, and Nick Xenophon discovered he may be a dual citizen, but was in fact found to not be by the High Court. However, despite this he still resigned from his position in the Senate to focus on State Politics instead. But things got much much worse, especially for the government, when Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Nationals Party Barnaby Joyce was discovered to be a dual-national of New Zealand by descent. Joyce then renounced his New Zealand citizenship, however, despite this, he continued to sit in Parliament in his role as Deputy PM and Leader of the Nationals, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull vouched for him, staying ever so confidently and boldly that Barnaby Joyce was ‘qualified to sit in the house and the High Court will so hold.’ Joyce was even acting Prime Minister at one stage during this time. And yet, despite their confidence, Barnaby Joyce and four other Senators were found to be ineligible to sit in Parliament after the High Court ruled against them. Ludlam, Waters, Roberts and Nash were all replaced by members of their own parties after a special recount was ordered by the High Court. Matt Canavan and Nick Xenophon were allowed to sit without question in the Senate, with Canavan being sworn back into his position in the Cabinet and Xenophon choosing to leave the Senate anyway. However, as Joyce was an MP sitting in the House of Representatives, the High Court ruled for a by-election to be held in the seat of New England, which was held last Saturday, December 2nd, and which Barnaby Joyce won quite easily. However this cost money, and it also seemed that Joyce knew that this might have been coming for a while, at least since he found out about his dual-citizenship. Yet he chose to sit in Parliament anyway, and thus this brings with it a sort of dilemma. Should Joyce have to pay back the money that was spent on the by-election? Should the decisions he has been a part of in Parliament be reviewed and potentially revoked? And this is exactly what causes instability in the government.

Not long after the High Court ruled on the matter and the by-election was called, more dual-citizens began to be brought up, particularly of note the member for Bennelong, John Alexander. Alexander discovered that he may be a British citizen, and so sought advice from the British Home Office. However, after speaking to Turnbull and being told he should be decisive, John Alexander announced his resignation, thus triggering another by-election, this time in the seat of Bennelong. The by-election had to be scheduled for the final day a by-election could be this year, Saturday the 16th of December. And this by-election was made even worse for the government for a number of reasons. The first: John Alexander was never actually a dual-citizen. The British Home Office responded to him, telling him that, despite their efforts, they could not find anything pertaining to him being a citizen of the UK, but renounced any privilege that Alexander may have had to British citizenship. This means that, realistically, John Alexander never had to resign, and that a by-election never had to occur. However, choices were made, and this is what occurred. But it got even worse for the government when the Labor Party revealed they were running a candidate too, and one which may actually stand a chance of taking the seat from the government and, in fact, putting them out of government. And how they managed to keep this one under wraps until Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced the candidate astounded many, including myself. The candidate: none other than the former Premier of NSW, Kristina Keneally. Now in all honesty, Keneally is a worthy opponent. She has the potential to win the seat of Bennelong in the by-election, and take down the government with her, despite the hardships that brought her down as the Premier of NSW. But that’s all behind her now, and realistically she could pull through. And to make it even harder for the government, Cory Bernardi has also got involved, deciding as a result of the people asking for it to happen, to run a candidate for his own party, the Australian Conservatives, in Bennelong in the form of Joram Richa. And Bennelong has been known to be a socially conservative seat in NSW, so it may be seen that Richa may stand a chance in the by-election. And we’ll soon see what happens, because this could just about bring the government to a standstill, and then bring it crashing down.

Despite the by-elections, a long-term solution needed to be put in place. And now this has occurred, with all sitting MPs and Senators being required to produce evidence of and declare their citizenship to the best of their knowledge to the Parliament by 9am this morning. And so, soon enough, we will know the extent to which this may go. We will find out who is ineligible to be sitting in Parliament/Senate, and this, we may see an increased number of by-elections occur early next year, as chaos engulfs the Australian Parliament thanks to Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, a document that I think, realistically, has scarcely been read by anyone. In reality, if we want to see an end to instability in our government and in Parliament in general, we need this citizenship crisis to end so that all the other issues can be resolved, and so that Australia can get back on track. And so we await what may just be the eye of the storm.

JJ

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