Politics

Politicians Are Tearing Themselves Apart Over A New Drama In The Citizenship Crisis

Is this ever going to end?

Back in July when former Greens senator Scott Ludlam announced his shock resignation after being outed as a New Zealand dual citizen he probably didn’t know he was firing the starting gun on a mad citizenship scramble that has gone on to engulf basically the entire federal parliament.

Up until yesterday, nine politicians had been swept up in the dual citizenship crisis of 2017. Some had been expelled from parliament due to a decision of the High Court, while others had resigned on their own accord.

For a while it looked like the whole situation might calm down, and everything would return to normal (or at least as normal as Australian politics gets these days).

Then last night all hell broke loose.

Everyone Is Fucked

When the citizenship drama started to ramp up last month there were calls for a “citizenship audit”. The concept was never fully developed, but the idea was to do some kind of independent analysis of every politician’s background to determine if they were dual citizens.

Instead of an independent audit, the Coalition and Labor settled on a compromise: a citizenship declaration. Each MP and Senator was asked to fill out a form listing where they and their parents were born, whether they had ever held the citizenship of another country and whether they had subsequently renounced that citizenship.

This week those declarations were published, and that action has triggered another wave of political instability.

One senator, Labor’s Katy Gallagher, has already been referred to the High Court over her UK citizenship, amidst suggestions that she might not have renounced it in time for the last election.

But it’s in the House of Representatives where most of the action is at. No less than eight MPs are facing dual citizenship accusations, four from Labor and four Liberals. A ninth MP, the Nick Xenophon Team’s Rebekha Sharkie, is also under a cloud. So far they’re all digging in their heels and refusing the budge.

The simplest way to resolve the issue would be for all nine of them to be referred to the High Court. But in politics, nothing is simple.

What Happens Now?

We’re in a classic stand-off situation right now. Labor won’t refer its MPs until the Liberals do. And the Liberals are trying their best to ignore the whole thing, claiming their MPs are all in the clear.

Actual footage from Parliament House.

This afternoon Labor, the Greens and some crossbenchers teamed up to try and force a mass referral of all nine MPs to the High Court, but it was blocked by the Coalition. So we’re in a stalemate. The problem is we just don’t know who is actually ineligible. The citizenship laws of various countries are complex, and the only way to get a definitive ruling is to ask the High Court to assess each politician, but political wrangling means that isn’t about the happen anytime soon.

Tensions in Canberra are so high one Labor MP was caught on camera calling a journalist a “maggot” for asking questions about the constitution and dual citizenship.

The MP who everyone seems to agree is in the most amount of trouble is Labor’s David Feeney. He claims to have renounced his UK citizenship back in 2007, but he can’t find any documents to back it up.

The problem for Labor is that his Melbourne seat of Batman is extremely marginal. At the last election Feeney held with the barest of majorities: 51 percent against the Greens’ 49 percent. Since then the Greens have gone on to win the state seat of Northcote, which falls within Batman.

The minor party is relishing the opportunity to contest Batman in a by-election. Labor is so freaked out they’re reportedly considering dumping Feeney as a candidate. If Feeney was to resign, or is expelled by the High Court, it would trigger the third by-election since the election was held in July 2016. And that’s not counting other potential resignations by other politicians caught up with dual citizenship issues.

Is This Ever Going To End?

The whole situation is getting kind of overwhelming. Every party in parliament has now been impacted by the dual citizenship issue. Despite Labor claiming earlier in the year that their internal processes were much more rigorous than that of the Coalition, a significant number of their own MPs have been caught out being sloppy.

Right now both major parties are pointing the finger at each other, but the reality is they’ve all fucked up. When Scott Ludlam resigned and triggered this saga Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull should have immediately realised that this issue was going to keep growing. They should have agreed to a process asking MPs to demonstrate they weren’t in breach of the constitution and also agreed to refer any politicians in doubt to the High Court.

Instead they pissed around for nearly six months, denying anyone on their side had screwed up, while the dominoes kept falling. Whatever little trust the public had in politics has been wiped out.

Section 44 of the constitution is an anachronism. It was an absurd provision in 1901 and it’s an absurd provision now. But it still stands. It’s a rule politicians should have followed, and what’s clear is that many of them, either through ignorance or arrogance, didn’t.

The only guarantee is that the crisis will roll into the next year. We’ve already seen how the current mess has interrupted the parliamentary schedule, delaying the passage of same-sex marriage legislation. As long as the citizenship stuff keeps boiling away it will suck oxygen and energy away from every other political issue.

The fact that Shorten and Turnbull still haven’t learned from their mistakes and are treating this as a partisan political issue suggests neither are that serious about treating voters with respect.

Osman Faruqi is Junkee’s News and Politics Editor. He tweets @oz_f.