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Citizenship and Australian Politicians

It is not controversial that if you are part of the government of a country, then your loyalty to that country should be undivided. It is perfectly reasonable to require that members of the Australian Federal Government should be citizens of Australia, and not of any other country.

Finding a clear way to make this work, however, has not been easy, as the recent spate of people forced to leave parliament because they are dual citizens of Australia and some other country has demonstrated.

In some cases this was simply carelessness. Those standing for election did not familiarise themselves with the law, or their parties did not undertake adequate checking. But in other cases, the law seems to have applied in ways its framers did not intend.

Barnaby Joyce, for example, was born in Australia, in Tamworth, NSW. He never considered himself anything other than Australian, never had any reason to believe he was anything other than Australian, and never felt any loyalty to any other country. But under New Zealand law, New Zealand citizenship was conferred on him at birth because his parents, though they had permanently moved to Australia, were still New Zealand citizens when he was born.

In another instance, Senator Lucy Gichuhi, who was born in Kenya, renounced her Kenyan citizenship when she became an Australian citizen in 2001. She took expensive legal advice, which confirmed that at the time of her election to the Senate she was a citizen only of Australia. However, in 2010, Kenya changed the law to allow dual citizenship. Those who became citizens of another country did not by doing so automatically void their Kenyan citizenship. This has renewed politically-driven speculation about Senator Gichuhi’s eligibility to be part of our government.

Senator Lucy Gichuhi
Senator Lucy Gichuhi

It is absurd for Australian law to be so unclear in its meaning and application that the laws of other countries can determine who is and who is not eligible to be a member of the Australian  government. At the moment, someone validly elected to our Parliament, and eligible to be elected at the time, can suddenly be rendered ineligible, not by any decision of the Australian people or government, but at the whim of a country half way around the world.

The stability of our government should not be dependent of the whims of the leadership of any other country, or on the vagaries of its laws. This needs to be fixed, now.

The solution is simple:

1. If a prospective member was born overseas or to parents who were citizens of another country, that person must show they have taken reasonable steps to ensure they are not a citizen of any country other than Australia.

2. All prospective members, whether born in Australia or not, or to Australian parents or not, must make a public statement that they formally and irrevocably renounce any other citizenships they may hold, or may become entitled to hold, during the period of their membership of the Australian Federal Parliament.

The law must be changed to note that this statement is an adequate renunciation of other citizenships for the purpose of membership of Parliament, regardless of laws or regulations in force in  any other country.