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Australian Indians with OCI cards ineligible to run for federal elections

Source: Government of India

Australians who hold Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards will not be allowed to stand as Labor or Liberal party candidates in the upcoming federal election, SBS Punjabi has confirmed.

A strict interpretation of Section 44 of the Australian constitution has ensured that neither the Liberal nor Labor parties of Australia will allow people holding OCI cards to run as party candidates. 

The confirmation of this fact comes in the wake of a federal candidate being disendorsed over the weekend, and the dual citizenship disqualifications that plagued the 45th Parliament of Australia. 

Vaishali Ghosh, a female candidate of Indian origin was dis-endorsed by the Liberal Party a few days ago as the party’s candidate in the Victorian seat of Wills due to dual citizenship concerns. 

Another candidate, who spoke to SBS Punjabi on the condition of anonymity, confirmed that he couldn’t gain endorsement from one of the major parties as their candidate, as he chose not to relinquish his Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card.

Yet another candidate, who is being endorsed by a major party as their candidate, has told SBS Punjabi that they renounced their OCI card before they were confirmed as a candidate in the May 18 elections.

OCI cancelled
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Both the Liberal and the Labor parties have confirmed to SBS Punjabi that they will not field any Indian-origin candidate who holds an OCI card.

What is an OCI card?

An OCI card is granted by the government of India to people with Indian heritage which enables them to enter, work or live in India for an indefinite period of time.

The card does not give its holder full Indian citizenship, as dual citizenship is technically not permitted in India, preventing one from being able to vote, hold office or hold agricultural land in India, but does grant one indefinite rights of passage and work in the country.

A campaign spokesperson for the Liberal Party told SBS Punjabi, "The Liberal Party will make every effort to ensure that its candidates comply with the Constitution as interpreted by the High Court."

"Section 44 of the Constitution disqualifies individuals who are ‘a subject or a citizen’” of a foreign country, or are ‘entitled to the rights or privileges of … a citizen of a foreign power.’”

The spokesperson added, "During the 45th Parliament, the Labor Party demonstrated that it will use the Constitution as a political football, even stooping to the level of questioning MPs’ qualifications on the basis that their forebears arrived in Australia as stateless refugees fleeing persecution."

In a brief statement issued to SBS Punjabi, an Australian Labor Party spokesperson said, "All political candidates must comply with the Constitutional requirements of Section 44." It has also confirmed it will adopt a similar position as the Liberal Party.

OCI card

Both major parties did not respond further to SBS Punjabi’s queries about how many Indian-origin candidates are impacted by this decision and how many have specifically been refused candidacy.

However, SBS Punjabi has spoken to one Victorian man of Indian heritage who was not endorsed as a candidate by his party because he decided not to relinquish his OCI status. 

He said, "I understand that this is the law. But this leaves a question mark for future generations, whether they should hold OCI cards."

It should be noted that not only migrants born in India, but their children and grandchildren born in Australia are eligible to hold an OCI card, and so are spouses of India-born Australians.

SBS Punjabi has contacted the Indian High Commission in Canberra as well and the formal response can be read here.

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