Thursday, July 27, 2017

Australia: Dual citizenship of parliamentarians wreaks havoc in Senate

Former Australian Senator Larissa Waters of the Greens Party breastfeeds her daughter Alia Joy as she speaks in the Australian Senate on school funding at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, June 22, 2017. Senator Waters resigned after revelations she was a Canadian citizen. Source: Reuters/AAP/Lukas Coch
A THIRD Australian Senator has resigned from their post over revelations that they are a citizen of a foreign country, amid a Senate inquiry into proposed toughening of the country’s citizenship laws.

Queensland Senator Matthew Canavan announced on Tuesday that he would be standing down as Resources and Northern Australia Minister after revelations that he also holds Italian citizenship. The Australian Constitution bars those who hold dual citizenship from entering Federal Parliament.

“Until last week I had no suspicion that I could be an Italian citizen. I was not born in Italy and I have never been to Italy,” said Canavan in a statement, claiming that his mother applied for Italian citizenship successfully on his behalf in 2006.

Senator Matt Canavan who has stepped down as Minister for Resources and Northern Australia speaks to ABC Radio National on 3 May 2017. Source: Twitter @mattjcan
SEE ALSO: Two steps back: Australia’s immigration debate reaches new lows

“The Italian authorities have confirmed that the application for Italian citizenship was not signed by me,” he said. “I had no knowledge that I myself had become an Italian citizen.”

Unlike two other Senators who resigned in recent weeks over holding dual citizenship, however, the conservative Liberal-National Senator said “on the basis of the advice the Government has obtained” he would not be resigning from the Parliament.

Section 44 of the Australian Constitution reads: “Any person who 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 shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”

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A family poses for a photograph in the World Square shopping center located in central Sydney, Australia, June 26, 2017. Picture taken June 26, 2017. Source: Reuters/Steven Saphore
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The 2016 Census showed that 26 percent of Australians were born overseas, while around half were either foreign-born or had a parent born elsewhere.

Scott Ludlam, a Senator in Western Australia and deputy leader of the left-wing Greens party, was the first to parliamentarian to resign on July 15 after it emerged that he also holds New Zealand citizenship.

“I was born in Palmerston North New Zealand, left the country with my family when I was three years old, and settled in Australia not long before my ninth birthday. I was naturalised when I was in my mid-teens and assumed that was the end of my New Zealand citizenship,” said Ludlam in a statement.

SEE ALSO: Census reveals Australia more Asian, less religious than ever

“I am personally devastated to learn that an avoidable oversight a decade ago compels me to leave my colleagues, supporters and my wonderful team.”

Fellow Greens Senator Larissa Waters resigned two days later when it emerged she was a Canadian dual citizen.

“I left Canada as a baby, born to Australian parents studying and working briefly in Canada before they returned home,” said Waters – who recently made world headlines for being the first woman to breastfeed in Australian Parliament, doing so whilst passing a motion on black lung disease.

She tweeted on Tuesday that “Senator [Canavan] & I disagree on almost everything, especially #Adani, but my heart goes out to him, family & staff with dual citizen news.”

The fiasco has had Australian Senators – more than 20 of whom were born overseas – scrambling to demonstrate that they do not hold dual citizenship.

Iranian-born, controversial Labor Senator Sam Dastyari – last year dubbed by government ministers as “Shanghai Sam” for accepting money from Chinese donors – declared on Facebook that he had spent AU$25,000 (US$19,747) to get rid of his Iranian citizenship.

“It was difficult, expensive, lengthy and precarious for my family still living in Iran. Nonetheless the rules are the rules and I have met them to ensure I meet the requirements to be properly elected,” he said.

Buzzfeed Australia reported on Wednesday that Senator Malcolm Roberts from the far-right One Nation Party, who is UK-born but has claimed he renounced his citizenship, has previously travelled abroad on a British passport.

SEE ALSO: Australia: Far-right candidate who kidnapped kids says ‘wouldn’t do it again’
Somewhat ironically, Canavan’s resignation from the Cabinet comes just days before the Senate closes public submissions regarding the government’s proposed changes to Australian citizenship law which would make it harder for migrants to become naturalised.

Under the bill named Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measure proposed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, migrants would have to wait longer to apply for Australian citizenship.

Moreover, the process would involve a mandatory English language exam. The opposition Labor party – none of whose Senators have been caught up in the dual citizenship debacle – oppose the changes.