Two Greens Senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, recently quit the Senate after discovering that they held dual citizenship: Ludlam is, apparently, a citizen of New Zealand, and Waters is, apparently, a citizen of Canada.  You wouldn’t have guessed: both have normal Aussie accents, and both have worked tirelessly in support of Australia’s interests.

The sudden departure of Ludlum and Waters from the Senate focussed renewed attention on section 44 of the Commonwealth Constitution.  Section 44 provides:

“44. Any person who:

(i) is under any acknowledgment 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 a 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.”

Senator Ludlam said “About a week or so ago it was brought to my attention that I hold dual-citizenship nationality of Australia and New Zealand”.  Given that section 44 is the relevant provision, it is ironic that Scott Ludlam, who is now 47 years old, has lived in Australia for 44 years.  He came here when he was a 3-year old.

A few days later, Senator Larissa Waters also announced she was leaving the Senate, as she had been born in Canada and came to Australia when she was 11 months old.

According to news reports on 20 July, Senator Richard di Natale is now trying to find papers showing that he has renounced any rights to Italian citizenship.  It is significant to notice that, if your citizenship of another country  is a thing of the distant past, digging out documents to show that you no longer adhere to that other country could be challenging.  Given that a lot of people come to Australia as young children born in another country, or are born here to parents who came here from another country, the challenge is a large one.  And add to this that you would have to find out whether the law of the country where you were born, or where your parents came from, recognised you as a citizen in the particular circumstances.

In a multi-cultural country like Australia, it looks a bit crazy.

When a person is elected to the Commonwealth Parliament, they take an Oath of Allegiance in the following terms:

“I [name] do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law, So help me God”

This is a little less comprehensive than the Governor-General’s Oath of Office:

I, [name], do swear that I will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law, in the office of Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, and I will do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of the Commonwealth of Australia, without fear or favour, affection or ill will. So help me God!

It is mildly surprising that members of the Parliament have to swear allegiance to a person who would be disqualified from being a member of the Australian Parliament.  Queen Elizabeth the Second is a British national, she is not a citizen of Australia, but she is our Head of State.  It is also disconcerting that the Governor-General is not constrained in the way members of parliament are.  the governor-General might or might not be a citizen of Australia, and traditionally was a British, but not an Australian, national.

But putting those minor quibbles to one side, no-one has ever suggested that Ludlam, Waters (or any other Greens member) has been untrue to their oath of allegiance.  Given that their connection to New Zealand or Canada respectively is so remote, and so slight, that is not surprising.  Whatever your views about Greens policies, Australian democracy is the weaker for losing Senators Ludlam and Waters.  We should consider very carefully whether section 44(i) is too wide and indiscriminate in its reach.

And here is Ian Holland’s take on the same question, published on 20July 2017 in the Brisbane Times