Cit­i­zen­ship de­ba­cle trashes vot­ers’ trust

The Sunday Times - - OPINION - Peter van Onse­len is The Sun­day Times’ po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and a pro­fes­sor at UWA Peter van Onse­len

THE cit­i­zen­ship fi­asco has torn the heart out of what lit­tle trust Aus­tralians had left in their elected mem­bers of Par­lia­ment.

How did it come to this? The cover-ups, lack of hon­esty, stu­pid­ity in not check­ing one’s an­ces­try, bla­tant par­ti­san games be­ing played and gross neg­li­gence when it comes to ba­sic ad­min­is­tra­tion are ut­terly stag­ger­ing.

All par­ties, big and small, have fallen foul of Sec­tion 44 of the Con­sti­tu­tion. While La­bor and the Lib­er­als are yet to for­mally test in the High Court any MPs’ or se­na­tors’ right to serve, rev­e­la­tions this week and last have high­lighted that cover-ups and games­man­ship are win­ning ahead of dig­nity and hon­our.

What about the now for­mer pres­i­dent of the Se­nate Stephen Parry?

He knew he had a prob­lem with Bri­tish an­ces­try, but chose to stay quite hop­ing that a High Court rul­ing on the cases of oth­ers would put him in the clear. His ac­tions have far and away been the most uned­i­fy­ing dur­ing this whole saga.

And La­bor’s mem­ber for the Tas­ma­nian seat of Brad­don, Jus­tine Keay, only for­mally re­nounced her Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship af­ter elec­tion day and af­ter her seat was de­clared. When quizzed by jour­nal­ists months ago she re­fused to re­lease her ev­i­dence of re­nounc­ing. No won­der — what a cover-up.

She ab­so­lutely de­serves to be re­ferred to the High Court.

It all started when WA Greens se­na­tor Scott Lud­lam re­alised he held New Zealand cit­i­zen­ship.

He did the right thing and im­me­di­ately re­signed, but how on earth could he have been so sloppy for so many years? It beg­gars be­lief.

The ma­jor par­ties en­joyed slam­ming the Greens for such slop­pi­ness, be­fore the cit­i­zen­ship fi­asco re­bounded on them. It’s not com­pli­cated — if you have a par­ent or a grand­par­ent born over­seas and you want to run for Fed­eral Par­lia­ment, first check if you hold, or have a right to hold, for­eign cit­i­zen­ship.

Be­cause do­ing so is con­sti­tu­tion­ally banned for Fed­eral MPs. It’s a pretty damn ob­vi­ous thing to check.

What does it say about the cal­i­bre of those who rep­re­sents us fed­er­ally that so many of them don’t have the core com­pe­tency to ad­min­is­tra­tively man­age some­thing so sim­ple?

Be­yond the lack of per­sonal ac­count­abil­ity on dis­play with MPs and se­na­tors who didn’t ad­e­quately check on them­selves, party of­fi­cials should hang their col­lec­tive heads in shame.

It is their job to vet can­di­dates and en­sure they com­ply with the rules. La­bor’s pro­cesses ap­pear to be bet­ter than the pro­cesses in other par­ties, but there are cracks ev­ery­where.

In the mean­time, vot­ers look on in to­tal dis­may. With so many se­ri­ous pol­icy chal­lenges on the go, Canberra is con­sumed by this cit­i­zen­ship mess — a mess en­tirely of its own mak­ing.

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