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Constitution needs to be brought into the 21st Century

Lee Rhiannon 14 Nov 2017

The citizenship status of MPs and Senators has put the spotlight on Section 44 of the Constitution. We should be worried about split allegiances - but it’s politicians serving their masters in big business that should concern us, not whether someone’s parent was born in another country. The resignation of Jacqui Lambie, who has been a staunch advocate for veterans and workers, adds weight to the case for constitutional change.

While the dual citizen rule no longer suits our multicultural and global community this is not the only messy issue that arises from the wording of this part of the Constitution. Public servants like teachers are also excluded from becoming MPs under the “office of profit” disqualification. Even people receiving a pension may be in doubt.

This means that at the next election millions of Australians will be ineligible to nominate for parliament. Section 44 of the Constitution is way out of step with 21st Century Australia. 

These issues need to be resolved.

Updating the Constitution in this area is not a new idea. In 1996 a joint committee recommended allowing dual Australian citizens to stand. The government’s response at the time was favourable. That same year the Senate unanimously passed a Greens motion calling for the government to respond with a proposal for amendment.

The major parties have known about the problematic aspects of Section 44 for years. Now is the time for the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition to start talking about constitutional change to build community-wide understanding of why the Constitution needs to be revised. 

Section 44 should be amended to:

a) Remove the dual citizenship exclusion, and specify that Australian citizenship, combined with the parliamentary oath or affirmation of allegiance is sufficient. (It would however be another advance to replace allegiance to the Queen with allegiance to the Australian people).

b) Apply the disqualification of holding "any office of profit under the Crown" at the start of an MP’s term so that public servants could run for elections without having to give up their job.

c) Ensure people in receipt of a pension or any social security payment are not disqualified.

Section 44(v) which refers to any person who has a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth should be retained. An MP with business agreements with the Commonwealth would create a significant conflict of interest, and that disqualification is justified.

It’s time to change this part of the constitution. In a multicultural society with a large public service at state and federal levels, Section 44 diminishes our democracy.

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