politics

How can our politicians run the country if they still can't work out their own citizenship?

The first time it happened, months ago, confusion over the birth place of a mother or a father and what that means for your seat in parliament might have been understandable.

But this week, as two additional senators come under fire amid questions about dual citizenship, the whole fiasco is starting to feel tired.

It was July – July – when Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens Scott Ludlam realised he was ineligible under the Constitution to sit as a senator because he holds dual citizenship with New Zealand. For the past nine years, he’d been in breach of Section 44 of the constitution and, he claims, was not aware of it.

Four days later, and it was his fellow Deputy Leader Larissa Waters who discovered she had Canadian citizenship.

Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team break down the entire dual citizenship saga. Post continues after audio. 

Then, came the waterfall. Senators and MPs suddenly realising they shared citizenship with other countries and – whooops – had forgotten to disclose it when they ticked the box saying ‘yes’ they were eligible to sit in Australian parliament.

Under Section 44 of the Constitution, any person who “is entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power” is ineligible to sit in Australian parliament. It’s the same clause that means people accused of treason, or who are bankrupt or insolvent, can’t be elected to hold a seat.

Last Friday, seven politicians – people who’d been making decisions on education and health and energy and welfare on behalf of the Australian public – sat in front of the High Court, awaiting its decision on their eligibility.

Four senators including One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts; Greens senator Scott Ludlam; Greens senator Larissa Waters; and Deputy Nationals leader Fiona Nash were disqualified. So too was Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

You’d think that would be the end of it. Five people disqualified from parliament in an embarrassing show of ignorance and oversight.

But, no.

Minister for Energy and the Environment Josh Frydenberg (left) and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, October 18, 2017.
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On Wednesday - five days after the High Court's decision and three months after the issue was first raised - Senate President Stephen Parry resigned after receiving advice from the UK Home Office he held British citizenship through his UK-born father.

Today, Cabinet Minister Josh Frydenberg is trying to clarify whether he's a Hungarian citizen by descent.

Why didn't they seek advice earlier?

Not only did Parry know about his possible ineligibility, he spoke about it, too. According to reports from the ABC, Parry told Communications Minister Mitch Fifield about his concerns in August and was told to keep quiet. He said in a statement on Thursday he had been "awaiting the High Court's decision" before seeking advice, AAP reports.

In Frydenberg's case, it was The Australian newspaper that raised questions about his possible Hungarian citizenship by decent from his mother.

Since July, when Scott Ludlam first announced his resignation, we have seen the words "dual citizenship" alongside "eligibility for parliament" splashed across newspapers and computer screens. We've discussed the ordeal over dinner tables, and laughed about it in office buildings.

It's been in the public conversation and all politicians - particularly those with possible foreign ties, you'd think - have been aware of this.

So why didn't they seek advice? Double check? Call their parents? Do whatever needs to be done to determine whether or not they are eligible for a seat in Australian parliament?

People are beginning to call it an 'embarrassment'.

"Yesterday was almost the straw that broke the camel's back," the managing director of Wesfarmers Richard Goyder told the National Press Club in Canberra on Thursday, referring to Stephen Parry.

"To have someone in a position of real authority in the country sit on information, and even sit on it from the Prime Minister and then hope that bad news went away ... bad news never goes away, just deal with it."

Others are saying it's deceitful:

"This smacks of a cover-up and it's now time for some straight answers from Turnbull and Brandis," Labor frontbencher Penny Wong told AAP on Thursday, in reference to Parry's resignation.

"The Prime Minister must now find out who knew, and when, and why his ministers covered this up for so long."

The rest of us are beginning to wonder: If they can't get their own citizenship status' in order, how on earth are these politicians running the country?

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