The Australian dual-citizenship scandal – How the Constitution sparked a government crisis

One article in the Australian Constitution which has no connection to every-day political business could bring down the Australian government. It sparked the dual-citizenship scandal that is spreading further through the parliament’s ranks.

Australia is one of the countries that rank close to Canada and the United States in terms of immigration. Many people immigrating also apply for the Australian nationality but don’t give up their original one. Hence, they hold a dual citizenship which is legally allowed.

However, the different countries of origin have varying laws concerning the process of gaining and renouncing citizenship. Sometimes citizenship is bestowed upon a person through birth – which the concerned people might never know about. They will be classified as a citizen in their country of origin, even if they themselves are oblivious about it. Revised laws have changed some processes of how to renounce the second nationality. But if a person is oblivious about their second citizenship, it could have massive consequences for them, especially if they are an elected member of parliament.

The Australian constitution has set up some rules for the MPs, and one of them has now proven to be able to end careers in a matter of weeks:

Article 44 in the Australian Constitution was never given much attention. It states that a member of parliament is not allowed to hold a second citizenship; legally, he or she can only be a candidate and become an MP if they are solely Australian. The existence of this law now became a fatal problem for multiple MPs in the Australian government.

The first step to get the hare (or the scandal in this case) running started fairly innocent: A lawyer in Perth researched the past of the green party MP Scott Ludlam. One day in July, he dug up something not even Ludlam was apparently aware about: The green party MP did not only possess the Australian citizenship was also holding the New Zealand nationality.

Knowing this was illegal, Ludlam resigned, followed by a colleague a few days later. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called them out on it, claiming that such a behaviour was sloppy.

Soon enough, though, others followed the example of the two politicians; including Barnaby Joyce, the Deputy Prime Minister and Party leader of the Conservative Party as well as MPs belonging to the government under Turnbull.

As the coalition partner of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s party, Joyce knew that this situation would have consequences for their already thin majority in parliament. It suffered lethal losses when cabinet members started to be affected.

After Turnbull suffered inner-party criticism, this affair is currently weakening his position further and the scandal threatens to develop into a full-fledged crisis.

Other MPs were quick to prove their own single-state citizenship by posting documents of renunciation of their second nationality on Twitter. Some who refused to publicly claim their single Australian nationality are raising questions and face mistrust.

The seven MPs found guilty of having a second nationality were now held ineligible by the highest Australian court and need to give up their positions.

The scandal is still spreading through Turnbull’s ranks, reaching two other Liberal Party MPs as well. According to Turnbull there will be no need to drag them in front of the High Court but as an end is not yet in sight, this claim could very well be over-turned soon.

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