Dual citizenship: AEC offers to build online tool for candidates to check Section 44 eligibility

Deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was kicked out of parliament for a New Zealand dual citizenship, but has since returned. Source: AAP

EXCLUSIVE: The Australian Electoral Commission has floated one potential solution to prevent more dual-citizenship surprises in the future.

The Australian Electoral Commission has offered to build an online tool for would-be politicians to check for potential dual-citizenship red flags that could disqualify them from parliament.

A parliamentary committee is investigating Section 44 of the Constitution, and whether new rules or even a referendum could help put an end to the ongoing instability in Parliament House.

In the past six months, nine federal politicians have resigned or been forced to quit for holding dual citizenship, which breaches Section 44.

In every single case the politicians claimed they were unaware they had a foreign citizenship, usually because they were inherited through a family bloodline.

“We can develop an online tool, put it online and make it available all the time,” AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers told the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.

“If citizens were thinking of nominating they'd be able to use that at some stage during that process, and that might further assist with the information we already have in hand,” he said.

The tool would likely allow potential candidates to enter their birth details and those of their parents and grandparents.

It could then suggest possible citizenship issues and recommend contacting a foreign office or embassy to renounce the foreign link. The tool may even be able to integrate with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  

The AEC suggested the tool could be called something like the Foreign Citizenship Advice Service.

Another two Labor parliamentarians have been referred to the High Court in the final week of parliament for 2017.

The saga will now certainly stretch into 2018, with many more MPs from across the political spectrum facing questions and threats of referral after the government published the first ever Citizenship Register.

The online register details the family genealogies of every politician and any renunciation paperwork they provided.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher is one of those headed to the High Court next year.

Her case is considered a test of the “reasonable steps” defence, established in the 1992 High Court case Sykes v Cleary.

Her documents uploaded to the Register show she contacted the UK Home Office to renounce her British citizenship, inherited from her father, before the last federal election.

But the official response did not come back until after the election, meaning the senator may have been a dual citizen at the time of the poll itself.

Independent senator David Leyonhjelm warned the AEC’s tool could be premature given the High Court’s ruling on Senator Gallagher could change the legal precedent.

“We still don't know what ‘reasonable steps’ are. This is precarious territory,” Senator Leyonhjelm said.

“It is,” committee chair Senator Linda Reynolds agreed.

The committee will hold further hearings and take more submissions before producing a final report. 

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