THE law is the law, and it must be respected, but it is no help to the good governing of Australia that deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce and four other federal parliamentarians have been found ineligible to sit in Canberra due to their dual citizenships.
In all of the months that this saga – triggered by the voluntary resignations of Greens senators Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam – has run, no-one has suggested that any of the so-called “citizenship seven” were in any way motivated or influenced by the foreign powers with which they were supposedly linked with by birth.
Now, the High Court of Australia has ruled in favour of two of the seven – Nick Xenephon and the National Party’s Matt Canavan – but ruled against One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts and deputy Nationals leader Fiona Nash, as well as Mr Joyce, Ms Waters and Mr Ludlam.
Mr Xenephon pre-empted the decision by announcing his intention to move back to state politics in South Australia. The other former senators will be replaced by the next candidate in line in their particular ballots.
Most of the focus has been naturally enough on Barnaby Joyce, because the loss of his vote in the House of Representatives pushes the Turnbull government into minority status, at least until Mr Joyce can contest a by-election, probably in early December.
In the meantime, Independent Victorian MP Cathy McGowan has promised to support the government against any no-confidence motion, saying that her electorate, and Victorians in general, had no appetite for another election.
Regardless of Labor’s obvious determination to make as much of this situation as it can, both sides of politics should remember that they are elected to govern the country on behalf of all of us, not necessarily to tear each other to shreds.
To that end, one of the parliament’s most pressing tasks must now be to find an end to these dual citizenship uncertainties. With as many as 49 parliamentarians being either born overseas or having a parent born abroad, this saga could have further to run unless something is done to modernise the 117-year old section 44 of the constitution.
Parliamentary reports in 1981 and 1997 recognised the problems section 44 could cause, and both times, parliament recommended the section be changed. We are all now paying the price of that earlier inaction.