Politics

Malcolm Turnbull Has Backflipped On The Citizenship Issue Engulfing Parliament

But guys, it's "not an audit".

As the dual citizenship saga stretches on, more and more people have begun calling for an audit of all MPs’ citizenship — y’know, just in case any other elected representatives with great power and responsibility have failed to do the bare minimum to ensure they’re eligible under the Constitution to do their jobs.

Malcolm Turnbull has spent the last week making it quite clear he’s not a fan of the audit option. Or, in fact, any option. Today he finally caved in to the political pressure and proposed an alternative, which he insists is “not an audit”. But it’s still a significant reversal from his previous position of ‘Do nothing and blame the media’.

Under the proposed requirements, all current and future MPs will be required to lodge a declaration stating that they are not a citizen of any country other than Australia at the time of their nomination for election.

The statement will include details of the MP’s place of birth and parents’ places of birth, to the best of the MP’s knowledge. If the MP has ever been a citizen of another country, they will be required to disclose this and provide evidence of their having renounced this citizenship.

The proposal would have to pass both houses of Parliament to come into effect, so nothing’s locked in as yet.

So…Is This…An Audit?

The question on everyone’s lips at this stage is whether this is essentially an audit. After all, just last week Turnbull asked an assembled press conference “what is an audit?”, and he’s also not known for calling a spade a spade (see: marriage equality vote/plebiscite/postal survey/opinion poll).

For the benefit of our Prime Minister, here is the dictionary definition of an audit: “an official inspection of an organisation’s accounts, typically by an independent body.” It’s the “independent body” part of this that people have been calling for, for the simple reason that nobody really trusts politicians who’ve failed to disclose their dual citizenship for so long to suddenly do better now, especially when the stakes are pretty high (see: getting kicked out of Parliament).

Turnbull’s proposed policy does not really involve an independent body: MPs are responsible for providing their declarations to the same Parliamentary office that deals with disclosures of financial interests. The question then is whether there’s anything to stop politicians lying or claiming ignorance on these statements — after all, so many of those caught out already in the citizenship scandal have claimed that to the best of their knowledge they were only a citizen of Australia.

Turnbull has said the penalty for incorrect statements will be “very dramatic”, but also said the specific would be set by Parliament, so we don’t really know yet how much pressure will be put on MPs to do the right thing. At its strongest, this policy could be pretty close to an audit. At its weakest, it’s just relying in MPs to do the right thing with no real incentive.

Anyway, the proposal is pretty close to what Labor has been pushing for, so there’s a good chance this will actually go ahead. Turnbull has said he intends to talk with Bill Shorten about the plan later today, and he hopes to push it through Parliament before the end of the year.

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Feature image via Dominique A. Pineiro/Flickr.