When it was just the two Greens Senators who resigned due to holding dual citizenship the government didn’t have a problem with Section 44 of the Constitution. The called the Greens sloppy and stated that their ineligible Senators Scott Ludlam and Larrisa Waters were not deserving of sympathy. Most Australians would agree there is no problem with Section 44 as the last thing Australia needs in this day and age is politicians with divided loyalties.
However the government’s tune changed when members of the National Party were caught up in Section 44. Despite it being a matter for the High Court to decide the government was confident that all three Cabinet Ministers under a cloud Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Nationals Leader Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan would be cleared. Malcolm Turnbull boldly proclaimed in Parliament they would all be found to eligible by the High Court. Their arguments in the High Court appeared to be that the ministers’ ignorance should be excused, nevermind that in our legal system ignorance of the law has never been an excuse for ordinary citizens.
Now that Joyce and Nash have been knocked out the government still won’t fully accept the decision of the High Court and will not take responsibility for the sloppiness of their own members who have now been found to have not complied with Section 44. George Brandis appearing on Sky News’ Sunday Agenda today claimed the High Courts decision was “brutal literalism” and decried their “strictly literalist” approach to the Constitution. He then went onto attack Section 44 itself arguing it ‘is not suitable for a multicultural democracy’.
Malcolm Turnbull as already opened up the possibility of amending Section 44 which would require a referendum by referring the matter to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters so “electoral laws and practices to minimize the risk of candidates being in breach”. Australians would highly resent millions of dollars of their money spent on a referendum to ask them to make life easier for the political class, a point Tony Burke made on ABC Insiders this morning.
George Brandis despite his own criticism of Section 44 concedes that constitution reform of it has no chance of passing. He instead wants the government to ” look at what amendments might be able to be made by the parliament to our citizenship laws”. It remains to be seen how parliament could legislate to take away people’s citizenship of foreign nations unless they mandated you could only hold Australian citizenship and no other.
Both these statements from Turnbull and Brandis demonstrate that they will not concede their own side of politics stuffed up and did not abide by the requirements of our 116 year old constitution. Voters above anything else want their politicians to admit when they have made a error. The Coalition is continuing to display a high degree of arrogance by maintaining there is nothing wrong with them, its High Court and our Constitution’s fault. Voters rejection of every proposed constitution change since 1977 would suggest they believe our constitution is working fine.
The government is responding to the High Court’s decision in entirely the wrong way and only causing even greater political damage. Voters will not let them off the hook anytime soon and will not indulge their proposed solutions to prevent them future political embarrassment.