Citizenship returns to haunt confidence

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher addresses the Senate as she refers herself to the Court of Disputed Returns in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, December 6, 2017. AAP /Lukas Coch
Labor Senator Katy Gallagher addresses the Senate as she refers herself to the Court of Disputed Returns in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, December 6, 2017. AAP /Lukas Coch

The slow-burning crisis that threatened to destroy public confidence in federal parliament has returned with a vengeance.

On Wednesday, the High Court did not accept that ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher did not take ‘reasonable steps’ to renounce her British Citizenship before standing for election.

Labor MPs Josh Wilson, Justine Keay and Susan Lamb, along with the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, resigned in the hours after the court’s decision due to their similar circumstances. 

Australia’s Constitution has little wiggle room for elected members having not just the ability to claim citizenship but even the benefits of remote association with another nation.

It has been ten months since WA Greens Senator Scott Ludlam was the first to leave parliament over Section 44 of our county’s founding document.

Riverina MP Michael McCormack was briefly under a cloud due to a grandfather on his mother’s side being born in Greece.

Mr McCormack has since provided documentation from the Greek Government stating he is not and never was considered a dual citizen.

it seemed the process had reached its height with former Nationals leader and deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce found to be ineligible to be elected.

It was a humiliating moment for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had confidently declared that Mr Joyce was “qualified to sit in the house and the High Court will so hold”.

Now it is opposition leader Bill Shorten’s turn to eat humble pie.

“Labor has the strictest vetting processes - we've got nothing to fear from greater transparency and disclosure,” Mr Shorten declared on Facebook in November.

The situation has been galling for ordinary people for a number of reasons.

First of all, elected representatives on a starting salary of about $200,000 have been happy to ignore the law for decades.

Once caught out, nobody has been asked to repay the millions of dollars in wages, superannuation, staff, offices and transport supplied to them at taxpayers’ expense.

Some retained senior ministerial perks while fighting High Court challenges.

Ordinary people, especially when dealing with a government agency, would not have such luck if found to be in violation of an obscure technicality.