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Dual citizenship should be a plus in modern Australia



There are layers of frustration around the resignation of Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters due to dual citizenship. The immediate loss of two of Australia's better parliamentary performers — on any side of politics — is unfortunate.

Greens Senator Larissa WatersThat it happened in the same fortnight that the Prime Minister misspoke about the primacy of Australian laws over mathematics, and the Immigration Minister unjustifiably accrued even more power, deepens the sting.

How a simple administrative error was left uncorrected to this extent is also frustrating. Both Ludlam and Waters, in spirit and practice, believed they were Australian and saw no other home than here.

For no one in their orbit and nothing in the AEC nomination process to have caught something so fundamental is unsettling — but perhaps not that odd. Presumptions of Australian-ness are more or less adjudicated on a certain kind of look and surname.

As writer and comedian Sami Shah caustically tweeted, 'Wouldn't have happened if Greens leaders weren't so white. PoC know their citizenship all times, in case someone's gonna try deporting us.' Even when I travel overseas, I pack a copy of my citizenship certificate like a talisman, to ensure I'll be allowed back in.

It has also been frustrating to watch an already self-absorbed political stratum in the throes of even more self-absorption. The Greens have much to contend with, but the issue has also gripped other federal politicians — more than 20 of whom were born overseas. The flurry of earnest press statements and tweets from foreign-born MPs and senators has never ensued from consequential things like Indigenous incarceration, abusive conditions on Nauru and Manus, climate change, and homelessness.

Lest we forget, dual citizenship was a flashpoint before this. In 2015, new laws were introduced to strip citizenship from dual-citizen Australians who fight in conflicts overseas, or commit terrorism or terrorism-related offences. Setting aside the merit of such policy (and it was heatedly debated at the time), the notion that citizenship is conditional for a specific subset of the citizenry surely undermines citizenship itself.

Which brings us to section 44 of the constitution, which disqualifies dual citizens from running for office or sitting in federal parliament. A formal act of revocation is therefore required from candidates.


"The matter has come to a head in a way that reflects contemporary realities and exposes the persistent hollowness of our understanding of identity. How can it be that duality is seen as a deficit rather than a surplus?"


It raises questions that strike at the heart of postmodern Australia, as well as the nature of our understandings of allegiance in a time when humans are more mobile and mixed than ever. Among younger Australians, a multi-ethnic, biracial or transnational heritage is increasingly the norm. They are being raised in a way that does not demand they choose.

Andrew Bartlett, former Australian Democrats leader and Waters' replacement as second-endorsed Greens candidate in the 2016 elections, has long called for amendment to section 44. In a senate speech in 2007, he said: '(If) we have nearly one-quarter of our community overseas-born, and a significant number on top of that whose parents are overseas born, there is a fair chance that the number of dual citizens we have is actually greater than the 20 per cent that is often used as an estimate.

'The more we go down this path — and it is a path that I support us going down — the more we are coming up against a major impediment in our constitution, which is that anybody who is a dual citizen is precluded from running for the federal parliament.' Former Greens leader Bob Brown had also repeatedly called for a reconsideration of the law.

Historically section 44 was invoked against a Catholic for allegiance to the Pope, an anti-warship protester, and an 'officer' of the Greek Orthodox Church. 'Foreign allegiances' were interpreted according to religion and political activity. Non-discriminatory laws have more or less put paid to these.

But the matter has come to a head in a way that reflects contemporary realities. It also exposes the persistent hollowness of our understanding of identity. How can it be that duality is seen as a deficit rather than a surplus?


Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She co-hosts the ChatterSquare podcast, tweets as @foomeister and blogs on Medium.

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, citizenship, Scott Ludlam, Larissa Waters



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Existing comments

I disagree with your opinion on this matter. I personally think someone who has allegiance to only Australia, should be in our parliament and making laws for Australia. I love our multicultural society, but it is a person's choice to keep more than one citizenship. These politicians were neglectful not to check on such important details before taking the oath. If they were neglectful with this matter, I wonder whether they were ready for their political careers. We should demand a high standard from our politicians, because lowering standards of allegiance could effect us all. I do not believe it is about any particular nationality and in fact, this shows that it is not. In saying that I think politics and Australia have greater problems facing it today, but that's another conversation.

Cate | 20 July 2017  

It's actually not about citizenship in our constitution because there is no such thing as constitutional citizenship. And will people for god's sake stop claiming Larissa's example is the same as Scott's, she has never had to swear out any citizenship because she is Australian from birth who had Canadian endowed on her at 1 week of age. She is not a migrant and I object to the nonsense that's because they are white

Marilyn | 20 July 2017  

Ruritania is invading Australia. X has both citizenship of both Ruritania and Australia. X is a member of the Australian parliament. X has a deciding vote in the parliament on this matter. And this is not a problem?

HH | 20 July 2017  

Unless you’re a very rare individual, you will always get more out of your country than it does out of you. That is why individual humans live in society and not in a state of nature fending for themselves. The Old Testament compared the relationship between the Israelites and the God who provided for their survival to a marriage. Consorting with other gods was adultery. So is consorting with foreign powers when there is only one power that sustains you. Should you need consular assistance overseas, which power will you be calling upon? The title of the article reads “Dual citizenship should be a plus in modern Australia”; where in the article does it explain why?

Roy Chen Yee | 20 July 2017  

According to the Tasmanian Times, Senator Abetz did not renounce his German citizenship till 9 March 2010. Was he sitting in parliament legally before then and who were his loyalties before then? When PM Turnbull calls it "sloppy and careless" when two Greens senators vacate their seats due to dual nationality, perhaps the situation with Senator Abetz should be investigated as well.

Henk | 21 July 2017  

The talk about "allegiance" and "loyalty" is problematic and very old-fashioned, I'd suggest. It is hardly helped by the faux-patriotism which it has suited some recent governments to foster. Consider: whatever those words might mean to different people, it seems implausible to believe that native-born citizens share the same intense "loyalty" to Australia. In the Hill case of some years ago (which dealt with the just-elected "One Nation" Senator from Queensland"), the High Court (in a seriously split judgement) took a very "black-letter" view of the late-nineteenth-century wording of Section 44 of the Constitution. That section of the document (written, like the rest of it, before 1900) became part of a law of the British Parliament: it is a "foreign" law. So -- by this strict definition -- is our Head of State (Queen Elizabeth II) a foreigner. It is relevant, too, that when our Constitution was written, there was no Australian citizenship (that came into legal existence on Australia Day 1949: before that we were -- like Canadians and New Zealanders -- "British Subjects"). The notion that, in the 1890s they would be considered "Foreign countries" is implausible. Prompt revision of that clause of the Constitution is crucial.

John CARMODY | 21 July 2017  

I agree with you Fatima, I am of Irish ancestry, and proud of it , but I am Australian by birth. This country is and always has been multicultural and multi- religious .Sadly this rule is a fossil from the past. If, as we do, have property interests in another country, we need to have citizenship there. That in no way means we have a divided loyalty. It is a great shame that two individuals have given so much to our country, only to be struck down through ignorance of things done on their behalf when they were legally minors.

Gavin | 21 July 2017  

Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters are basically out on a technicality. It happens all the time in sport. Sadly, they could have avoided this with a bit of forethought. Aye, there's the rub. The Greens - if today's Australian is correct - have other problems and may be getting closer to demise. The return of Andrew Bartlett - never one of parliament's brightest lights - may also be challenged on another technicality. Should Australian politicians; service people; public servants et sim be allowed dual citizenship? That's an interesting question and really hinges on the possibility of the real, or perceived, 'conflict of loyalties' which may arise in certain sensitive political, defence and intelligence situations. There is no simple answer which would be satisfactory to all.

Edward Fido | 21 July 2017  

Rules can be strict to a fault. And The Greens have learned this truth the hard way. Our nationality is important - if I was in trouble in a foreign country I know my citizenship of this country, if not a magic remedy, can sustain me in certain ways. That's a reality. I have great admiration for Bob Brown's great abilities as a politician and an inspirational leader but I'm unsure about his stand on this issue.

Pam | 21 July 2017  

Really outdated. Maybe we need a list of acceptable countries which we can dual with like British, Canada, NZ

NOLA RANDALL-MOHK | 21 July 2017  

I have to agree with Cate. The issue is not about multiculturalism or ethnicity but about dual citizenship. The issue related to Larissa is tragic and I doubt the legislation had her situation in mind. However the principle is about protecting Australia's best interests by ensuring that our elected parliamentarians do not have a potential or perceived conflict of interest in international matters. For the two Green senators in this current situation they have stated that their dual citizenship was an oversight arising from their childhood. Perhaps there should have been a pathway to resolve what for this case is a technicality. Many with only Australian citizenship treasure our own multi-cultural heritage. Multiculturalism enriches us, dual citizenship for parliamentarians has the potential for conflict. The authors of our constitution seem to have been aware of this.

Kevin | 21 July 2017  

Born into the Family of Man From the womb of Mother Earth No one brother was ever given authority to deny another brother the right & privilege of residence anywhere on this Planet I claim my Birth Right Everywhere Always

Iam Mathias | 21 July 2017  

It is very hard for me to be objective about this issue. I was born in Northern Ireland before WW2. I was proud to be British and the fact that the British (English Scots Welsh & Northern Irish) fought against the Germans. I was ashamed our Irish cousins south of the border declared themselves neutral. In the late 1960s when the British (mainly English) government supressed the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association I was ashamed to be British. I escaped to Australia but didn't think about becoming an Australian citizen until 1976 when Australian Citizenship became a necessary condition of my professional career. At the Citizenship ceremony I was amazed at the highly emotional state of many of our New Australians. They were so sad at 'deserting' their homeland but overjoyed at the prospect of secure and productive lives for their children. If international relations is a serious "game" played between nation-states then the governments need to be as sure as they can be about the emotional attachment of elected representatives to their nation/state. Drafting laws/rules in this regard is as difficult as defining "holding-the-ball" in Aussie Rules. And even more difficult when it comes to applying it.

Uncle Pat | 21 July 2017  

Full marks to Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters who resigned immediately when they found out. No alternative but no attempt to stall either. I’m sorry to see them go. Hopefully their political careers are not over and they will continue to make useful contributions. Dual citizenship does not bother me as much as other attributes of some of our politicians but the Constitution is clear that it is not on. John Carmody raised some interesting points about what Australia was when the Constitution was written. Our own Head of State has dual and potentially conflicting loyalties that I doubt would ever put representing Australian interests ahead of Great Britain. I don’t have the same doubts about Ludlum and Waters. But that’s just something we have to live with. Constitutional change requires a referendum and conservative governments typically do not want that, so any review of the Constitution is unlikely. That's unfortunate because after nearly 120 years any set of rules should be open to revision.

Brett | 21 July 2017  

There's a lot of holiness being professed by politicians about the Greens' loss. While perhaps we should be aware of s44, I wonder what else we should be aware of? My Australian-born daughter could not have known that by my act of registering her birth with NZ authorities she cannot stand for federal parliament. On the estimate you cite there might be upwards of 2 million loyal Australian citizens in a similar position. How many politicians have escaped the net hitherto? And, while he has renounced British citizenship, did Tony Abbott renounce also his British subject-ness? But we'll not be reforming our constitution any time soon so perhaps we need an Act instead, to clarify/interpret s44 in line with 21st century realities

Ian Bowie | 21 July 2017  

Don't worry HH, the Minister for Home Affairs will have cancelled X's Australian citizenship and deported her long ago. You might, with good reason, be more concerned that companies associated with the government of Ruritania own or control several ports and ship yards and large slabs of the utilities and communications networks.

Ginger Meggs | 22 July 2017  

Roy, the Old Testament is the story of a primitive tribe seeking to survive in a hostile environment. It has little if anything to say about a generally multicultural and increasingly non-religious settler society in a globalised 21st century. Even before the great wave of post war-immigration Australians were accustomed to the concept of overlapping identities. My first passport described me as a 'a British SUBJECT and an Australian CITIZEN' (how's that for a confused status !). For years we allowed non-naturalised British subjects to vote in Parliamentary elections. Generations of Australians whose parents were born in Britain have applied for British passports to make travel to Europe easier. In a globalised economy there is no reason why citizenship of one county and another need be mutually exclusive. And there's the rub: 'exclusivity' whether in religion or community or nationality is seldom a useful idea, whereas 'inclusivity' usually is.

Ginger Meggs | 22 July 2017  

Ginger Meggs: “….story of a primitive tribe seeking to survive in a hostile environment. It has little if anything to say about a generally multicultural and increasingly non-religious settler society in a globalised 21st century….In a globalised economy there is no reason why citizenship of one country and another need be mutually exclusive.” “You might, with good reason, be more concerned that companies associated with the government of Ruritania own or control several ports and ship yards and large slabs of the utilities and communications networks.” What good reason is there for you to be concerned when all the ministers of the Ruritanian government are Australian citizens as well? According to your logic of universal brotherhood (or sistership) in a globalised 21st century non-hostile environment, they’re only buying their own stuff, aren’t they?

Roy Chen Yee | 24 July 2017  

I'm confused Roy, I don't get your drift. I was responding to HH who, usually, supports a free markets but who also, usually, supports a tight border control and citizenship policy. What is the point you are trying to make?

Ginger Meggs | 25 July 2017  

G.M., Of course I’m concerned about interests, business or otherwise, associated with foreign countries, especially in conflict situations. But in the end, if the government, trying to manage such situations, is compromised in the parliament by a bloc of dual Rur/Aus citizens, then the game is over even before the whistle blows. I throw my cards down and yield to Godwin's Law: would you have been happy with German (or Japanese) /Australian dual citizen MPs having a vote in the Australian Federal parliament while it was prosecuting our nation's defensive effort in WWII?

HH | 25 July 2017  

What's so unreasonable about expecting our elected representatives to have allegiance to just once country? (ie the country they are seeking represent) I can also see how it's not necessarily a conflict of interest and I don't personally have any problem with dual citizenship, but I can also understand the reasoning against it and could quite easily buy into that argument.

AURELIUS | 26 July 2017  

Some comments equate dual citizenship with disloyalty to Australia. I don’t see the link. I doubt Scott Ludlum or Larissa Waters could be accused of not putting Australian interests first in their work in Parliament and now a National Party MP may be caught up in it, even Barnaby Joyce is saying these things are accidents with no intent to deceive. On World War 2 hypotheticals I would prefer people with dual citizenship who never had anything but loyalty to Australia, to some of the actual MPs in office during the war who only a couple of years before were praising the merits of Mussolini and Hitler and were happy for Australia to sell pig iron to the Japanese. We had an overtly Anglophile PM in the 1950s and another PM in the 1960s who was happy to go all the way with LBJ. I wouldn’t question their loyalty (and I don’t think Holt was a Chinese spy), just their judgement, which is a separate matter. The Constitution prohibition is clear enough and nobody can claim now they didn’t know about it. The High Court can decide if Matt Canavan’s situation is a grey area in a clear prohibition or if he is just looking for wriggle room.

Brett | 27 July 2017  

Ginger Meggs, if foreigners can keep their previous citizenships while becoming Australian citizens, why can't Australian citizens shop around for countries to become citizens of if it suits their personal interests? "Dual" is just a choice of word. It's really multiple citizenships. If fortune is available to a Dick-Whittington Australian in resources-rich Ruritania when the doors seem to be shut in Australia, why not become a citizen there, get into politics and make lots of money like Putin's cronies, maybe develop some emotional links through marrying a local and raising half-Ruritanian children, and buy up those swathes of Australia that serve his new life in Ruritania (which presumably means buying whatever is good for Ruritanian foreign policy)? Why should the nationality of the money in his pocket restrict what in Australia he can buy if he is already an Australian citizen and entitled to buy whatever he wants in this country? People complain about Rupert Murdoch's American nationality governing the influence he tries to exert in Australia. He's only an American because the Americans won't let him be an Australian. Otherwise he'd be an Australian citizen with the right to promote his interests, overwhelmingly American they might be.

Roy Chen Yee | 27 July 2017  

A cunning enemy of Australia could sneak into parliament by renouncing his citizenship with Ruritania and, once elected, wreak havoc. The law is a blunt instrument. But on balance I prefer it to strike against dual/multi citizenship for legislators than not. It sends a message, one that anyone loyal to Australia and hoping to represent the community in government should be happy to heed.

HH | 27 July 2017  

It's already happened, HH. Think Tony Abbott..

Ginger Meggs | 28 July 2017  

I really can't understand the passion behind this discussion. It's simply a constitutional matter and the only way to change the constitution is with a referendum - and there are far more ethical and moral constitutional matters requiring a referendum that we should be focused on (how many indigenous Australians with dual citizenship are trying to enter parliaments?). If you're a dual citizen and want to represent Australia as a politician, simply renounce your second citizenship!!! (Extra exclamation marks intended....)

AURELIUS | 02 August 2017  

If we must give out dual citizenships, give them to 30,000 Nauruans for services rendered to Australia's border protection so they don't feel dumped when the camps are closed. It might even help their democracy and economy.

Roy Chen Yee | 03 August 2017  

When Bill Shorten gets his Australian republican head of state, how many citizenships will she be allowed to hold?

Roy Chen Yee | 04 August 2017  

Good question Roy but I would be more concerned if a future republican Head of State had the conflicting loyalties the current Head of State has. When was the last time a British monarch (okay, read Australian monarch) put Australian interests first?

Brett | 07 August 2017  

"When was the last time a British monarch (okay, read Australian monarch) put Australian interests first?" When she follows the convention of letting her Australian vice regal representatives - all seven of them - follow the convention of abiding by the advice in normal situations of the elected Commonwealth and state executives. The short answer to your question is yesterday, being the last working day of the week, although the convention itself doesn't take weekends or public holidays off.

Roy Chen Yee | 12 August 2017  

No Roy, that's avoiding an answer. The question was about the actual Head of State, not the representatives in Australia. The GG and State Governors are not the Head of State. My question, although rhetorical, still stands unanswered.

Brett | 13 August 2017  

Guys, (ie Roy and Brett) - the issue to remember here is that the British Monarch is not the same as the Queen of Australia - they are separate titles. And the titular role of "King/Queen/President/Chief Bunyip of Australia" is simply to observe that the our contitution is being upheld. So as a jaded republican from years ago, I've grown up and bit and seen how our politicians deal with constitutional matters (ie same sex marriage and indigenous recognition) and have come to the sad conclusion that I'm a constitutional monarchist for the time being.

AURELIUS | 13 August 2017  

Barnaby Joyce now? Seems like Ludlum and Waters were too quick to do the right thing. They should have tested the waters (no pun intended) in the High Court, if only to see if their situations differed from Joyce et al. It will be interesting to see what excuses the High Court will accept for a valid election.

Brett | 14 August 2017  

Brett: "The question was about the actual Head of State...." The answer was about the actual head of state. But, if you'd like another answer.... Same sex marriage is legal in the UK. Have you heard the Queen put Australia's interests last by demanding that it be legalised here? Incidentally, if SSM is legalised in Australia, will you hear her put Australia's interests first by demanding that the GG not sign the bill?

Roy Chen Yee | 14 August 2017  

Roy, I'm sure the Queen has already had private and confidential discussions with PM Turnbull and they've chided that us colonials are still a bit backward and take a bit longer than the rest of the developed world to catch up with trends in civil rights. And and sure the Queen - as the guardian of the Australian constitution - has also pointed out that a plebiscite is redundant, and a postal survey is a vague imitation of something that's already redundant. So, in short, it's not the Queen's role to decide what's in our interest, but merely to uphold that we abide by our constitution.

AURELIUS | 15 August 2017  

Without labouring it Roy, your answer was about vice regal representatives – all seven of them. I was comparing the nonsense that equated dual citizenship with disloyalty to Australia, with our actual Head of State who at the very least will have conflicting loyalties when advised by her British Prime Minister to act in a way that may disadvantage Australian interests. Dual citizenship is not disloyalty to Australia; usually it is the result of family history. I imagine your view on disloyalty has changed now some conservative politicians have been sloppy with their paperwork.

Brett | 15 August 2017  

I see your point Aurelius but I thought it was the High Court rather than the Head of State that upholds and interprets the Constitution, as is happening with the current references about dual citizenship. The controversy of 1975 should have warned off Monarchs and their representatives from interfering in political or Constitutional outside their conventional roles. Much as I would like to see Indigenous recognition in the Constitution, the decision must come from the people, although I also don’t hold out a lot of hope with our current political leaders.

Brett | 15 August 2017  

Yes, Brett - I agree with you that it's the high court that deals with the nitty gritty, but the GG and Queen are still observing from a distance that things are constitutionally "legit" (my very technical term). And it's this "observance from a distance" that has probably led to the longevity of constitutional monarchies.

AURELIUS | 16 August 2017  

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