Scott Ludlam’s parliamentary resignation and the question of disqualification for dual citizenship

Senator Scott Ludlam announced his resignation from the Australian Parliament yesterday following revelations that he was, and had always been, ineligible for election. According to Section 44 of the Consitution of Australia, holding dual citizenship of Australia and another country (in Ludlam’s case, New Zealand) disqualified him. Section 44(i) specifically reads:

“Any person who –

(i.) Is 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

… shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”

The revelation of Ludlam’s ineligibility for office was the result of independent investigations made by barrister, John Cameron. Cameron, a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand himself, told The Australian that he had also sought to determine whether Derryn Hinch was eligible for his Senate seat. He claimed that the results of his inquiry had surprised him, with Hinch having renounced his former New Zealand citizenship prior to his election, and Ludlam having neglected to do so. Cameron also claimed that his actions, which included notifying Ludlam’s office and the parliamentary secretary, were not politically motivated.

In response to Ludlam’s resignation, Derryn Hinch raised an issue he had raised publicly back in 2015.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbot responded promptly by posting a scan of a letter from the UK Home Office, which confirmed that he had renounced his British citizenship appropriately in 1993, prior to his election to the Australian Parliament. Hinch accepted the evidence, but referred to the delay in its provision as “silly” in a subsequent tweet today.

This turn of events made me wonder whether Ludlam was the only current Australian parliamentarian to have made such a Consitutional indiscretion. With this nagging thought, I combed through the biographies of current Australian parliamentarians, and compiled the following list of elected members of the House of Representatives and Senate who were born outside of Australia.

The list in itself is unremarkable. The Australian Parliament holds 150 members of the House of Representatives and 76 Senators (making 226 individuals in total). Of those, 25 were born outside of Australia. As one might expect, the United Kingdom is the most common place of birth for parliamentarians outside of Australia. 13 other countries feature in the list, with birthplaces including a combination of European, Middle Eastern, South-East Asian and African countries.

Personally, I think Ludlam, and the party he has represented, the Australian Greens, were foolish to overlook this important eligibility criteria, which is spelled out so unambiguously in the Constitution of Australia. End result? Regardless of whether you agree with his views, Australia has lost a hard-working Senator, who may yet have to pick up bills for salary and expenses claimed from the public purse since his election in 2008. He is able to appeal for a pardon, and could even run again at the next election, provided he renounces his New Zealand citizenship.

Cameron told The Australian that the statutory declarations federal MPs are required to sign do not require them to provide any evidence that they have renounced any other foreign citizenship. It strikes me that this episode was entirely preventable. It appears that a revision of the process of nomination for candidacy, namely adding a requirement to provide evidence of current citizenship, would be a simple and immediate way to prevent future embarrassment.

Meanwhile, the persons listed below might consider it a worthwhile demonstration of good faith to disclose their historic citizenship status and in so doing, reassure Australians that Ludlam has not been singled out unfairly.

Australian parliamentarians born outside of Australia

Name State Party affiliation Place of birth Citizenship
Tony Abbott NSW Liberal Party of Australia United Kingdom AUS only
(since 1993)²
Eric Abetz TAS Liberal Party of Australia Germany ?
Anne Aly WA Australian Labor Party Egypt ?
Doug Cameron NSW Australian Labor Party United Kingdom ?
Mathias Cormann WA Liberal Party of Australia Belgium AUS only (2000)³
Sam Dastyari NSW Australian Labor Party Iran AUS only
(prior to election, date unspecified)²
Paul Fletcher NSW Liberal Party of Australia United Kingdom ?
Alex Gallacher SA Australian Labor Party United Kingdom AUS only
(since 2010)¹
Lucy Gichuhi SA Independent Kenya ?
Ian Goodenough WA Liberal Party of Australia Singapore AUS only
(since 2004)¹
Derryn Hinch VIC Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party New Zealand AUS only
(since 2016)²
Sussan Ley NSW Liberal Party of Australia Nigeria (former UK citizen) AUS only (since June 2001)
Scott Ludlam WA Australian Greens New Zealand Dual (resigned)
Nick McKim TAS Australian Greens United Kingdom AUS only
(since 2015)¹
Brian Mitchell TAS Australian Labor Party United Kingdom ?
Brendan O’Connor VIC Australian Labor Party United Kingdom ?
Malcolm Roberts QLD Pauline Hanson’s One Nation India Dual (referred to Court of Disputed Returns)
Nigel Scullion NT Country Liberal Party United Kingdom ?
Rebekha Sharkie SA Nick Xenophon Team United Kingdom AUS only
(prior to election, date unspecified)²
Maria Vamvakinou VIC Australian Labor Party Greece ?
Larissa Waters QLD Australian Greens Canada Dual (resigned)
Peter Whish-Wilson TAS Australian Greens Singapore ?
Josh Wilson WA Australian Labor Party United Kingdom ?
Penny Wong SA Australian Labor Party Malaysia AUS only
(since 2001)¹
Tony Zappia SA Australian Labor Party Italy ?

 


UPDATE: As of 10:10 pm on 17 July 2017, all politicians listed above with unconfirmed citizenship statuses have received correspondence, asking for relevant details. The above list will be updated accordingly, as responses are received.

UPDATE: As of 22 August 2017, Malcolm Roberts, Matt Canavan, Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Nick Xenophon have also been referred to the Court of Disputed Returns for holding dual citizenships, conferred through birth or parentage.

¹ indicates information received via private email correspondence with parliamentarians’ offices
² indicates announcements made via official Facebook or Twitter accounts
³ indicates information disclosed in press statements

 


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