A few weeks ago, I commented adversely on challenges by the ALP to the eligibility of government minister David Gillespie to sit in Parliament, on the basis that he owned a block of shops one of which was leased to an Australia Post branch. Since then, we’ve seen the resignations from Parliament of Greens Senators Ludlum and Waters, and from Cabinet of Senator Canavan. Eligiblity of others remains in question. This has led me to change my view. Instead of trying to make the best of this disastrous system, we should do away with it by constitutional amendment. The only way to make this happen is to enforce the existing provisions in their full absurdity.
According to the ABC, 49 per cent of Australians were born overseas or had a parent born overseas. Add to that everyone employed in the public sector “an office of profit under the Crown”, or who does business with the Commonwealth, and it’s conceivable that a majority of Australians are ineligible to run for election to Parliament. And, while Antony Green thinks it unlikely that pensioners are ineligible, the report he quotes says “However, the meaning of the phrase is not absolutely clear and there are divergent views about its effect.” Speaking personally, although I’ve never seriously considered running for election, I’d also never considered the possibility that, as an academic and ARC Fellow, I’d be ineligible. But it appears that I may be.
Of course, there are steps that can be taken to fix this problem for any individal, but we need a systemic solution.
Obviously, the authors of our Constitution never intended any of this. At the time, there was no separate Australian citizenship, so any British subjec was eligible, which would have solved the problems faced by Ludlum and Waters. And the public sector was much smaller, so the other constraints weren’t nearly as problematic. Age pensions hadn’t been introduced, so the provision against pensioners was meant to exclude personal pensions, granted by the monarch direclty
On the other hand, while the framers guarded against the sources of corruption evident to them, they never anticipated the problems we have now. It’s OK for political parties to be in hock to foreign donors, for someone who has renounced his Australian citizenship to control most of our media, and for careerist politicians to start out as hack staffers, give out favors in office, and cash them out afterwards. But if you don’t do the paperwork to cancel potential citizenship in a country you’ve never seen, you’re out on your ear.
At this point, the situation is so bad that “worse is better”. The best outcome would be for another dozen or two members of Parliament, from all parties, to be thrown out. Then we might get the unanimous support we would need to fix the absurdities of Section 44. Of course, that wouldn’t do anything about the real problems, but at least we would be free of this anti-democratic nonsense.