Not much to celebrate in high court decision

Malcolm Roberts, Scott Ludlum, Larissa Waters, Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, Matt Canavan and Nick Xenophon all faced the High Court on October 27.
October 28, 2017

There was a celebratory mood on social media when the High Court ruled on October 27 that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was ineligible to sit in parliament.

The government has lost its one seat majority and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's over-confident prediction that government politicians would be safe has been shown to be partisan bluster.

Right wing buffoon Malcolm Roberts has been kicked out of the Senate along with Deputy Leader of the National Party Fiona Nash.

The Greens have been able to rightly point out that their senators behaved with honesty and integrity. This stands in stark contrast to the self-interest (and often hypocrisy) displayed by politicians from the Nationals, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Nick Xenophon Team.

Unfortunately, that is where the good news ends.

All the senators who were deemed ineligible will be replaced by members of their own party, or in the case of Fiona Nash, another member of the Coalition. Thus it will be a personal disappointment to the individuals involved but won't really change the dynamics in the Senate. Roberts for instance will be replaced by a different One Nation extremist.

He and Nick Xenophon have both announced they will jump into state politics. This demonstrates yet again that career politicians generally look for opportunities to put their snouts in the trough, changing trough when necessary. Ironically, Xenophon — along with Matt Canavan — was found to have been validly elected so did not need to jump ship. Presumably he thought the risk he would not make it was too high.

Joyce will face a byelection, but he won by a formidable 17% at the previous election. His most prominent rival, Tony Windsor, has announced he will not run this time (although a petition calling on Windsor to run has been circulated).

Byelections can sometimes produce unexpected results because they give voters a chance to punish sitting governments and this government is on the nose. The High Court has certainly given the government a jolt. It is not out of the question that the voters of New England could give them a bloody nose and vote Joyce out.

The biggest problem with the whole process and resulting discussion is that it is framed around nationality whereas the most important division in Australian society is around class.

The stipulation that dual citizens are not allowed to be members of parliament is profoundly undemocratic and ought to be removed from the constitution. Even better would be the formulation of an entirely new and genuinely democratic constitution with a bill of rights and other democratic improvements.

Much of the public commentary — both popular and elite — has assumed it is a bad thing for elected representatives to have “allegiance” to a “foreign power”. However, most people do not think of citizenship in these terms.

The more important principle is for the voters to be able to freely choose their preferred candidate and to have institutional mechanisms of accountability so elected politicians can be recalled if they disappoint their constituents.

Even the Greens' submission to the High Court ended up effectively supporting the ban on dual citizenship for federal parliament. In making the fair argument that the constitution should apply equally to everyone, they ended up opposing a more flexible interpretation of the prohibition on dual citizens.

This reinforced the idea that banning dual citizens is a fair prohibition, which it is not.

When considering some of the biggest controversies in Australian politics in recent times — WorkChoices, a carbon price, NBN, ABCC, marriage equality and others — national “allegiance” really makes no difference. The real division is over support for or opposition to big corporate interests or ordinary people.

We need democratic reform that makes it easier for ordinary working people to achieve progressive change in our own interests. The ban on dual citizen MPs is not the biggest obstacle to winning a genuinely democratic Australia. However it is an undemocratic measure that should be removed.

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