Section 44 challenges some of the most fundamental values of modern Australia. We need a diverse government to speak for our diverse country.
Without further ado, I would like to repeat the legendary Milton Friedman’s words and use them in a new context.
‘Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.’
We as a nation should always be wary of concentrated power, as it often creates one-track mindedness, leading to limited debate and poor governance. Concentrated power can often develop within government and policy makers. Parliamentarians should never be subject to a narrow definition of representative. Australia is a diverse nation, with both domestic and foreign perspectives and viewpoints, and it is the duty of democracy to include all these opinions in the discussion. Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, and its ban on MPs holding dual citizenship, greatly inhibits the ability of democracy to carry out this duty.
Let me endow some Australian wisdom on you: Nearly one-third of all Australians were born overseas, almost 1.5 million of whom were born in either New Zealand or the UK. This alone is substantial, and as we also learned from the 2016 Census, ‘nearly half (49%) of Australians had either been born overseas, or both parents had been born overseas’. This suggests that up to 49% of Australians are eligible dual citizens and thus, under Section 44, are ineligible to serve in Parliament. Back in 2000, the estimated number of eligible dual citizens was estimated to be 4-5 million (or equivalently, 21-26% of all Australians). Even if the proportion of eligible dual citizens today is significantly lower, say 5%, their exclusion from the chambers of Parliament remains inefficient and nonsensical.
Let us begin by looking at it from a quantitative perspective – the Australian Parliament is made up of 76 senators and 150 lower house MPs. Thus, given a parliament consisting of 226 suitable candidates, we can utilise the central limit theorem to assume that at least 5% of them (11 candidates) would be ineligible to serve due to their citizenship status. You may consider that a low number of candidates, but if we want to maximise the utility provided by our legislative system (utility being derived from electing the ‘most representative’ candidates), this is unacceptable. The first and foremost role of an elected representative should be to represent their constituency; disqualifying someone who is perfectly suited to fulfil this role, merely due to their foreign background, will only leave the country worse off.
Qualitatively, an amendment to Section 44 would allow for better ideas and flow of discussion, creating a beautiful duality between both left and right-wing ideologies. With every debate and disagreement in Parliament, we get closer to understanding what Australians need from their government. If we are to have a Pauline Hanson we should surely have a Scott Ludlam; without both, we will simply have one person yelling into an empty chamber. Ludlam’s departure from the Senate means that a lesser preferred candidate will take his place, leaving the country worse off via forgone opportunity cost. One of the basic concepts taught in introductory microeconomics classes is that a free and competitive market leads to the greatest social welfare, and the least deadweight loss. The same applies to the political sphere, where the most popular and aligned candidates are usually those nominated by their party.
Perhaps, though, we are simply afraid of foreigners infiltrating our democratic institutions and taking over the country. That completely misses the point of democracy, in that the majority candidate wins the right to serve regardless of their background.
At the same time, however, I can understand the looming threat of being ruled over by an unstable state such as the United Kingdom. However, I doubt that Australia would ever give something drastic like absolute power to the monarchy. Especially not via the same constitution that bars foreigners from running for Parliament; that would be highly counterintuitive.
Section 44 does not hold up in modern Australia, and the time has come to allow dual citizens to become representatives.
Last month we saw the shock resignations of Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam from Parliament, found to be closeted Canucks and Kiwis respectively. The status of minister Matt Canavan, whose mum made him Italian without his knowledge or consent, will soon be decided by the High Court.
Since then, there’s been much discussion about whether Section 44 is a remnant of a 19th century worldview that should be changed.
Section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution states that someone cannot be a candidate for Federal parliament if they are:
“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”
Here we go again. Even as politicians claim an obscene amount of entitlements on the public purse they feel they deserve more. Isn’t the age of entitlement supposed to be over? What more do these people want? They’ve already got unlimited business class travel, an allowance for being away from home, and even stipends to maintain their own offices. That means they get free stationery! Paid for by the taxpayer! While I’m over here trying to get away with stealing pens from work!
And now these people who have everything think they’re entitled to the perks of dual citizenship? No way.
At a time when there are increasing fears over foreign influences in Australian politics, it doesn’t make sense to keep around those who have commitment issues with Australia. ASIO is already quite worried about Chinese donations to our political parties. A referendum on Section 44 could further undermine our sovereignty. How do we know these people aren’t undercover spies, trying to ruin Australia from within? I mean, has anyone had a close look at Matt Canavan? He’s the guy who pushed for a $16.5 billion coal mine to be built on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Does that seem like someone who has Australia’s best interests at heart?
This isn’t the A-League. We can’t afford to have any foreign players in our politics.
Besides, with Section 44 in play are we really missing out on the best of Australians? The fact that Waters and Ludlam couldn’t check to see if they had dual citizenship before standing for federal office shows they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed. Canavan throwing his mother under the bus for filling out his forms suggests his departure might not be much of a loss either.
If these people are as Australian as they say they are, then it shouldn’t be too hard to take a leaf out of yes, Tony Abbott’s book and renounce their other citizenship. Sure, the next time they go to their renounced country they’ll have to join the longer queue at the airport, but is it really that big a deal?
It’s worth noting that with the recent turnover rates in Aussie parliament, there’s a high chance these MPs would have been turfed out for one reason or another anyway. Changing section 44 would be like asking Shonda Rhimes to tone down the drama in Grey’s Anatomy. Why would we give politicians less ways to backstab each other?
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Episode 14, Season 6 of The Simpsons by FOX / Via mysimpsonsblogisgreaterthanyours.tumblr.com
‘New Zealand Rugby Player’ image by G. Barrau (2010) via Wikimedia Commons
‘Scott Ludlam’ image by Cebitaus (2015) via Wikimedia Commons
‘Larissa Waters’ image by D. Jackmanson (2009) via Flickr
‘Australian Flag’ image by D. O’Neil (2006) via Wikimedia Commons
‘Canada Hockey Player’ image by S. Yume (2010) via Wikimedia Commons