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Mass outbreak of Natural Stupidity in Canberra.

Recently someone in Canberra with nothing useful to do noticed that the Australian Constitution specified that anyone who was a citizen of any other country was not eligible to be a member of parliament, and also discovered that (in their "expert" legal judgement) two of those pesky Greens held dual citizenships. A moments thought would have revealed that this was irrelevant - firstly the fact that you or your mother was born in Italy or - horror of horrors - New Zealand, was unlikely to affect your voting habits, and secondly few, if any, of our members of Parliament take the slightest interest in the electors they are paid to represent anyway. But who cares; let’s get rid of these pests.

Unfortunately this revealed an awkward problem - by the same interpretation of the Constitution many of their own party were also dual citizens, and so were equally ineligible to stand.

Oops!

There are several factors which have contributed to this situation. The first is that when the Constitution was drawn up in the late 1890s there were no Australian citizens. Australia was a vast continent, stolen from the indigenous inhabitants, and occupied by European settlers in small British colonies, all controlled independantly from London. They were just one of the many similar collections of Colonies and Territories forming the British Empire, and owing their allegiance to the Crown.

There had been several attempts to unite the various Australian colonies but eventually a draft constitution was drawn up at the end of the 19th Century, after a long series of negotiations between the various Colonies, agreed to by their Parliaments, and endorsed by the electors in referendums held in South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland in 1899. In March, 1900 a delegation travelled to London to present the constitution to the British Parliament, and on 5 July the British Parliament passed the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. This was signed by Queen Victoria on 9 July, and the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed in Centennial Park, Sydney, on 1 January, 1901. The first Commonwealth elections were held on 29 and 30 March, and on 9 May the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) opened the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne.

Under the new Constitution there were still no "Australian" citizens; all the subjects of both the United Kingdom and all the territories comprising the British Commonwealth were simply classified as British subjects. Furthermore the Australian Parliament was subservient to, and bound by, decisions of the UK parliament. This was clearly demonstrated in 1939, when Menzies announced “It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that in consideration of the persistence of Germany in invading Poland Great Britain has declared war upon her, and as a result Australia is also at War”. What the Australian people thought about the matter was irrelevant; we were at war. (See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZedhB6Olvk)

The Clause in the Constitution responsible for all the hysteria is Clause 44 (i), relating to Disqualification from eligibility to act as a member of either the Senate or the House of Representatives. This states, in part:

44. Disqualification

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; ....

As far as I can discover this was in the original Constitution & has never been changed. In my opinion the subclause "or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power" should never have been added; it was ill-considered at the time, and subsequent changes have rendered it completely unworkable.

The first problem is that When the Constitution was drawn up there were no Australian citizens. Australia was a part of the British Commonwealth, and the white residents of Australia (who did not even recognise the existence of the Indigenous peoples, from who they had stolen Australia) were all "British Citizens", and subject to the authority of the British Parliament, so that when the Constitution referred to "a citizen of any other country" it meant "not a citizen of the British Empire”, and the British Empire was very widely spread indeed. Even then this was a very poorly thought out Clause, as there was no clearly defined way to establish whether an individual was "entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power", but so far as I know no-one has ever previously been challenged under this clause.

Initially all the subjects of both the United Kingdom and the Commonwealty countries were classified as British citizens, and had automatic right of entry to the United Kingdom and (I think) any Comonwealth country, but this conection has been gradually been whittled away. In 1948 the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, which came into force on 26 January 1949, created the concept of Australian Citizens, but they continued to be British subjects.

However in the 1950's the residents of the British West Indies, who were largely the descendants of African slaves imported to work on the sugar plantations, took advantage of this to flood into England and take over all the lower paid jobs. This caused considerable resentment, and in about 1959 Great Britain passed legislation depriving non-resident British citizens (including Australians) of automatic right of entry. However this would not affect the right of Australians to take up residence in any of the other territories then comprising the British Empire, unless these territories have also enacted legislation removing their right of entry.

Unfortunately today it is difficult even to establish what these territories were, let alone their current situation. It is fairly easy to find maps of the world splashed with red, showing the extent of the British Empire at various times, but I have been unable even to find a list of the territories then comprising the Empire (it is my vague recollection that there were about 100), let alone their current regulations, and unless you can obtain this information for every single one of them it is impossible to establish that you are not eligible to become a citizen of some now foreign territory.

Even worse this Clause is an open invitation to unfriendly territories to "game" the system. If, for example, North Korea were to pass a regulation entitling any Australian citizen to register as a citizen, without providing a mechanism to renounce this right, it would mean that no-one in Australia could legally stand for Parliament.

The only rational approach to this situation is, as a matter of urgency, to remove this Clause from the Constitution on the grounds that it makes it impossible to govern Australia. Instead our representatives are behaving like a lot of spoilt children quarrelling to try to gain a short term advantage over their rivals, and ignoring the fact that their quarrelling has revealed a fundamental fatal flaw in the Constitution, and paralysed our parliamentary system. It is particularly disgraceful that the worst quarrelling is between representatives of rival factions within the "Liberal" faction.

A person who is registered as a citizen of another country should continue to be ineligible to stand, but this should only apply to a person who, as an adult, has applied to be registered as a citizen of that country.

When I was practising as a Computer Virologist one of my colleagues had a saying "Artificial Intelligence is no match for Natural Stupidity, and the two most common things in the Universe are Hydrogen and Natural Stupidity".

There is certainly an abundance of the latter in the world today!

Happy days!

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 © Roger Riordan 2004-2019