PM’s confidence on dual citizenship cases ‘misplaced’: Constitutional expert

There could be another 20 cases in the dual citizenship saga according to a widely respected constitutional expert who says the drama was 'utterly predictable'.

Leading constitutional lawyer, George Williams, said it’s time for the major political parties to come together and agree on changing the constitution to bring the uncertainty of the dual citizenship saga to an end.

“It has long been known that the dominoes here were stacked and ready to fall and it only took one senator, on this occasion senator Scott Ludlam, to declare their hand for the ball to start rolling,” Mr Williams said in an address to the National Press Club in Canberra.

“Parliament itself has repeatedly identified that this is a problem and needed to be fixed.

“Reports have been shelved, warnings of future harm ignored and nothing has happened.”

'Confidence suggests a level of hope'

Mr Williams said the Prime Minister’s confidence about the outcome of the High Court cases that will decide the future for colleagues like his deputy Barnaby Joyce is misplaced.

“We're dealing with an area of law that has not been looked at on this point for some 25 years and I think confidence suggests a level of hope rather than actually bearing out the state of the law as it currently stands.

“When it comes to ministers, the wisest course for them is to refrain from making any decisions while they're being considered by the High Court or to stand down pending a decision of the High Court.”

He said he would be very surprised if the High Court did rule the Nationals leader eligible to remain in his current position.

“It's hard to see why the High Court would fashion an exemption when candidates have been warned of this problem and when the information is very easy to obtain through a simple check on the internet. Joyce's case and indeed those of the Greens members speak less of a constitutional problem and more of complacency and poor vetting on the part of parties.”

Seven MPs and senators have been caught up in the dual citizenship drama.

Under section 44 of the constitution, dual citizens are ineligible to sit in federal parliament.

Mr Williams said there have been concerns over this part of the constitution for decades.

A 1997 parliamentary committee convened a report into section 44 because it was concerned back then about the large number of MPs and senators who could be caught out by it.

“Many past members have fallen into these categories and arguably could be disqualified but an unspoken accommodation between the major parties has meant that people who may have been constitutionally suspect were never challenged," he said.

The seven politicians caught up in the dual citizenship saga.
AAP, composite by Stephanie Preston

Calls for constitutional change

“Section 44 is a problem. It's broken in terms of its capacity to serve the needs of the modern community and it needs to be fixed.

“It should be changed to ensure you are entitled to sit in the federal parliament if you are an Australian citizen. The eligibility of our members of parliament should not be left to other countries to determine. It undermines our sovereignty to do so.”

That power lies with the federal parliament which can make a change through a referendum.

“Despite the ridiculous nature of the circumstances in which we find ourselves, these aren't small matters. They can't be put to one side. These are principles of law in our nation's founding document.  These are principles also that threaten the political futures of many members of the federal parliament.”

Mr Williams has backed the idea of an audit of all 226 members of the federal parliament to deal with the issue but said that could only come after the High Court has ruled.

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