Federal Liberal backbencher John Alexander MP has resigned from parliament today due to concerns he holds dual-citizenship with the United Kingdom. This resignation, along with the earlier High Court ruling is another failure of process where politicians who assumed they were in the clear have run afoul of the Australian Constitution.
In a press conference earlier today, John Alexander announced he would resign as a member of parliament as he is likely a dual-British citizen. Alexander’s father was born in the United Kingdom and emigrated to Australia. John Alexander was born shortly afterwards and as his father did not renounce his British citizenship, Alexander became a British citizen by descent.
This dual-citizenship would disqualify him from parliament under section 44 of the Australian Constitution.
The seemingly never-ending “Citizenship Seven” debacle started with the shock resignation of Western Australian Greens senator, Scott Ludlam.
Ludlam was the first of seven Australian politicians found to hold dual-citizenship due to their place of birth or parentage. These seven politicians — former Deputy PM Joyce and Senators Ludlam, Waters, Nash, Roberts, Canavan and Xenophon — were referred to the High Court.
All but Senators Canavan and Xenophon were ruled ineligible to run for parliament.
Since then, questions have been raised about a number of other politicians including Labor’s Justine Keay, Susan Lamb and Josh Wilson and Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie.
Section 44 of the Australian Constitution states that
Any person who –
(i.) 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 citizen of a foreign power.
In practice, this means that political candidates sign a declaration on their nomination form stating that they are qualified under the Constitution to be elected to parliament. The problem is that it’s incredibly easy to hold foreign citizenship without knowing.
Many countries, including the UK and New Zealand, automatically grant citizenship to anyone with parents from those countries. Other countries, such as Canada, grant citizenship to anyone born within their borders.
This is a subject that rarely comes up so many Australians assume that ‘she’ll be right’ and assume they do not hold any foreign citizenship(s).
After all, what reason is there to check?
Running for parliament is a very good reason to check yet this lackadaisical attitude has now caused endless frustration for the government.
The High Court ruling, along with Alexander’s resignation have lead to a recount of Senate votes from the 2016 election and by-elections in the seats of New England and Bennelong. If any more members of parliament resign or are ruled ineligible, it’s likely that we will see even more by-elections.
We are now in a position where our politicians are focused on making sure they submitted the right paperwork instead of governing our nation.