The great citizenship debacle rolls on, and it’s hard to see anyone coming out of it looking good.
The primary blame goes to the High Court which decided to use an absurdly literal interpretation of the Constitution to knock out a couple of independent candidates back in the 1990s (they’d been naturalised but hadn’t properly revoked their previous citizenship). If the first person to fall afoul of this interpretation had been a senior government minister, I have no doubt the Court would have decided differently. But literalism and precedent are a disastrous combination.
Apart from Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters (and the Greens more generally), the politicians haven’t covered themselves in glory either. Those who think themselves safe have mocked those who’ve been caught, sometimes ending up with egg on their faces. And the actions of senior government figures who concealed the problematic status of Senate President Parry (apparently keeping it from the increasingly pointless PM and A-G) have made matters worse.
Then there’s the great Australian public, who will almost certainly reject any attempt to fix the problem, because they don’t like politicians. I’ve run across heaps of people saying it’s just a matter of “due diligence”, an odd phrase to use of hoop-jumping that can take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars Yet if these restrictions (unique to Australia) had not existed and were proposed today, they’d be laughed out of court.
The logic of all this takes us to a position where the majority of Australians are potentially ineligible to run for Parliament (dual citizens, anyone who has a foreign-born parent, anyone with a government job, potentially anyone receiving a pension, anyone who has business dealings with the government). How anyone can see this as other than a major problem for a democracy is beyond me.
Worse still, these absurd rules do nothing to protect us from actual corruption. Political parties can take money from foreign companies which may be acting on behalf of forigen governments. They can sell assets on the cheap and then get cushy jobs in banks. They can even be paid by lobby groups while in office then go to work for those very same groups.
The one group who can’t really be blamed for this are the framers of the Constitution. In 1901, when virtually all Australians were British subjects, and when an “office of profit under the Crown” was a rarity, they could scarcely have foreseen the mess that would ensue a century later when their words were applied to a totally different world.