Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, and now Liberal-National Party Senator Matt “the Accidental Italian” Canavan, have all recently fallen foul of section 44(i) of the Australian constitution, with the two Greens resigning immediately, and Canavan resigning his ministry but vowing to fight in the High Court to keep his Senate seat.
Various pundits have weighed in on this arcane section of our constitution, with some saying it is complicated, and others that it is badly in need of reform. So how do Australia’s provisions for keeping foreign insurgents out of Parliament stack up against those of other countries? Are our rules really that severe? Or is everywhere just as frightened of a Canadian double agent trying to run the Black Standard up the flag pole as we are?
Given Scott Ludlam, Larissa Waters, and Matt Canavan have been outed as citizens of New Zealand, Canada, and Italy respectively, these three nations seem like a good place to start. And since our constitution was written by UK citizens, what does dear old Mother England have to say about the issue?
Scott Ludlam would have no problem running for office across the ditch, with New Zealand allowing dual citizens to stand for parliament. While New Zealand’s Electoral Act 1993 allows dual citizens to be elected as MPs, that hasn’t prevented the issue of dual citizenship from nearly derailing a Kiwi’s political career. In 2003, then-Labour MP Harry Duynhoven courted controversy when he applied to renew his Dutch dual citizenship, which he had lost temporarily after a change in Netherlands law. At the time, section 55 of the Electoral Act stated than an MP who applied for citizenship of a foreign power after taking office would forfeit their seat.
However, this was regarded as a technicality, rather than a serious problem, with then-prime minister Helen Clark highlighting the pointlessness of such a rule: “The irony is that if Mr Duynhoven resigned tomorrow because of it, he could run again tomorrow,” she said. She pointed out that it wasn’t the fact of being a dual citizen that was the problem, but rather “the act of acquiring citizenship while you are an MP in between elections”. As a result, Clark’s Labour government went to revise the Electoral Act, which now allows exceptions to section 55 on the grounds of an MP’s country/place of birth, descent, or renewing a foreign passport issued before the MP took office.
Larissa Waters could try her luck in Canada — there are no proscriptions for dual citizenship for Canadian politicians. Under part 6 of the Canada Elections Act, anyone who is a Canadian citizen and at least 18 years old on election day can run as a candidate. Under section 65(g) of the act, a person who is imprisoned in a correctional institution cannot run as a candidate, though Australia has a similar restriction for convicts under constitutional section 44(ii).
While there are no legal barriers in terms of dual citizenship for Canadian politicians, some party leaders have run into trouble regarding perceived lack of allegiance to the maple leaf. For example, leader of the National Democratic Party of Canada (NDP), Thomas Mulcair, was criticised in 2012 by then-prime minister Stephen Harper regarding his French citizenship, which Mulcair had, at that point, held for roughly 20 years.
“Just to be clear, these cases have come up in the past, and obviously it’s for Mr Mulcair to use his political judgment in this case,” Harper said. “In my case, I’m very clear: I’m a Canadian and only a Canadian.”
And what of Matt Canavan, could he run for office under the red, white and green? Italy has a bicameral legislature made up of the Chamber of Deputies (630 members) and the Senate of the Republic (315 members). Article 56 of the constitution of the Italian Republic holds that voters who are at least 25 years old can run for the Chamber of Deputies, while Article 58 holds that one must be at least 40 years old to run for the Senate.
However, Italy also reserves a group of seats (12 in the Chamber of Deputies and six in the Senate) for Italian citizens residing abroad. The overseas constituency consists of four electoral zones, each of which elect at least one Deputy and one Senator. These zones are a) Europe b) South America c) North and Central America, and d) Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica. In 2016, then-prime minister Matteo Renzi proposed a constitutional reform that would have eliminated the ability of Italians overseas to run for the Senate. However, the referendum was defeated, leading to his resignation. So, Matt Canavan’s political career is far from over …
People wishing to stand as an MP in the UK must over be over 18 years of age, be a British citizen or a citizen of a Commonwealth country or the Republic of Ireland. Candidates are also required to place a 500 pound deposit when submitting the nomination papers, which is returned if the candidate receives over 5% of the total votes cast. The most notable recent controversy surrounding dual citizenship in the UK was Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s renouncing of his American citizenship. This was motivated by his desire to avoid paying $50,000 worth of tax on the sale of his house in Islington, North London, which the IRS was claiming against him. It should be noted that in the UK Catholics are still officially barred from succeeding to the English throne.