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Matt Canavan Italian election
Minister for Northern Australia Matt Canavan.

The saga of Matt Canavan, the third senator to be entangled by section 44(i) of the constitution in less than two weeks, has raised many questions. Of course, one is whether it is in any way conceivable for an adult to be signed up for citizenship of a country without that adult’s involvement or knowledge. On this front, ABC’s Emma Alberici was unequivocal. According to her sources, it is impossible, and the requirements that make it impossible have not changed for decades. Less explored has been why anyone would do that.

To recap: Canavan says he was registered, unbeknownst to him, as an Italian citizen by his mother, Maria, back in 2006. The proximity of this to Canavan’s father pleading guilty to fraud charges has been noted elsewhere, although no one has specifically speculated that this court case — which led to the jailing of Bryan Michael Canavan and a colleague over a $1.6 million fraud against their employer Nestle between 2001 and 2004 — was the reason Maria wanted options about where the Canavans might call home. But there was another major event in close proximity to Maria Canavan’s citizenship application: the 2006 election in Italy.

The Italian general election of April 2006 was the first to include a vote by Italians living abroad that would allow them to elect 12 lower house MPs and six senators to represent the interests of those diasporic Italians specifically. While the Italian diaspora had always technically had the right to vote in Italian elections, before 2006 Italians abroad were required to return to the municipality they (or whichever relation they had inherited their citizenship from) had lived in before moving. (Though they had been given a say in two referendums previously in 2003.) The (dis)enfranchisement of the huge diaspora had long been a controversial issue in Italy, eventually gaining support during the uncertainty following the end of the Cold War; Italy came to feel reaching out to its foreign citizens would be a way of improving its overall foreign policy.

The 2006 election proved an incredibly tight affair. Eventually, centre-left candidate Romano Prodi scrapped past the incumbent prime minister Silvio Berlusconi 49.81% to 49.74% with the help of Australia-based MP Marco Fedi and senator Nino Randazzo. Roughly 100,000 Australians are eligible to vote in Italian elections. It leads to a tantalising thought: did Canavan’s mother attempt sign him up for dual citizenship in 2006 so he could vote (or someone could vote for him) in the 2006 Italian election?

The Courier-Mail has established that Canavan is on the Italian registry of citizens residing abroad — which, as the name suggests, requires that a citizen register to be included on the registry: “Law no. 470/1988 states that all Italian citizens who intend to live abroad must register at an authorised Consulate within 90 days of arriving in their country of residence. Even those who emigrated, and those born overseas before this law went into effect must register.”

In response to the Mail‘s questions, Canavan’s people said he’d not seen any Italian electoral material in the past 10 years, nor ever voted in any Italian election, and in his initial admission he claimed to have been officially registered in January 2007. But as anyone who has attempted to apply for citizenship knows, the process takes months — did the election play a role? If Canavan didn’t vote in 2008 or 2013 (another tight contest involving Berlusconi), did someone vote on his behalf? Know more? Let us know.

Peter Fray

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