Amid obfuscation and excuses from National and One Nation politicians, the Greens are the only party to have dealt with the matter honestly and with principle
Barnaby Joyce has this week become the latest victim of the citizenship saga shaking up the federal parliament after it was revealed the deputy prime minister is a citizen of New Zealand.
Despite the prime minister’s insistence the high court will rule in the government’s favour and Joyce refusing to stand down from the parliament, the latest revelation throws the entire Turnbull government’s wafer-thin leadership into serious danger.
The longer Joyce holds out standing down, the deeper his personal and political integrity is undermined. Amid the relentless obfuscation, avoidance and flimsy excuses being put forward by both National and One Nation politicians caught up in this saga, the more honest and principled way the Greens dealt with the matter comes into sharper focus.
Almost exactly a month ago the Western Australian Greens senator Scott Ludlam was informed by an anonymous supporter that his joint New Zealand citizenship rendered him ineligible to be an Australian parliamentarian under section 44 of the constitution. He immediately did the right thing by declaring his untenable position and stepping down as a senator.
That bombshell was followed by fellow Green and Queensland senator Larissa Waters, another Green seen by many as being in her political prime. Not only was she making tangible impacts in her environment portfolio, she’d also recently shown great strength of character in standing up against the misogynist political culture by becoming the first Australian senator to move a motion while breastfeeding.
Both Ludlam and Waters were highly regarded, tenacious champions of their portfolios. But rather than affording them any measure of respect for making the tough call and sacrificing their own immediate political ambitions by being upfront with the Australian people, senior Coalition figures including Malcolm Turnbull instead criticised their “sloppiness” and “extraordinary negligence” for getting themselves into that situation in the first place. George Brandis went further, stating: “I don’t think we should shed too many tears over the consequences of Mr Ludlum’s own negligence” and adding that he could be forced to repay a substantial debt for all his salary and allowances received as a senator.
Since then the revelations about the status of other parliamentarians have been coming thick and fast. But the way they have dealt with it couldn’t have been in sharper contrast. First up we had Matt Canavan, the gung-ho pro-mining Queensland National senator and resource minister refusing to resign from parliament as his Greens counterparts had done – but instead just stepping down from the frontbench and quite literally blaming his mother for signing his citizenship papers that got him into this mess. Even Canavan’s defence that he had “unwittingly” become a dual citizen has since been called into question by Italian immigration experts who stated that having someone else sign his immigration papers would directly contravene Italian foreign ministry guidelines and would never have been allowed.
Meanwhile, One Nation’s outspoken climate sceptic and Queensland senator Malcolm Roberts (who was born in India to a Welsh father), has also come under increasing pressure to provide evidence that he had renounced his UK citizenship after initially claiming less than a year ago he had “never held any citizenship other than Australian.” His office later clarified that Roberts “is choosing to believe that he was never British”. Well that certainly cleared things up, didn’t it, Malcolm? It was only in late July when evidence came to light that Roberts had in fact travelled on a British passport that the beleaguered senator provided a statutory declaration statement: “I can confirm I am not a citizen of the United Kingdom, nor am I a citizen of India.” As the whole saga descended further into farce, Roberts has still to this day refused to release any documents that prove he ever renounced his British citizenship.
The pattern here is clear for all to see. The Greens remain the only party with the integrity to stand up, unprompted and of their own volition, and speak honestly to the Australian public on the issue of dual citizenship. In every other circumstance Coalition and One Nation senators have used every trick in the book to try to weasel, obfuscate or deflect the public from the truth that they are in clear breach of section 44 of the Australian constitution.
There’s no doubt the Greens in 2017 have their own problems and shortcomings – including the long-standing rancorous and at times poisonous relationship between radical elements of the NSW branch and the more pragmatic and pro-democratic Greens leadership with its roots in Victoria and Tasmania – as demonstrated in ABC’s Four Corners programon Monday night. But when Bob Brown founded the national Greens party in 1992 in Sydney, one of the four pillars he founded the party on was grassroots participatory democracy, which in part means being truthful to the people you’re elected to represent – even when it hurts.
In these cynical times it’s hard to believe such rhetoric from any political party – but at least on the issue of dual citizenship the Greens have shown themselves to be more sincere and able to be true to their own lofty principals than all the other players thus far drawn into this sorry saga. What remains to be seen now is whether the deputy prime minister will be able to conjure up the kind of integrity the Greens have demonstrated, or whether he will instead attempt to cling to political power in clear contrivance to the Australian constitution to which he has sworn allegiance.
This piece was first published in the Guardian