Update on that Australian constitutional crisis sparked by the blog of a former Lib Dem candidate…

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Further to my blog this morning, many thanks to William Summers, who has got in touch from Melbourne. He’s sent us the link to the original blog post which led to the Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, being ruled as ineligible to hold office, turning the Australian government into a minority one. Here is the link to the post.

As a recap, William Summers was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Norfolk North West in 2010, and worked for Norman Lamb as an assistant. He now lives in Melbourne, Australia.

The BBC summarises the situation:

Australian Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and four other politicians were wrongly elected because they held dual citizenship, a court has ruled.
The High Court of Australia decision means three of the politicians, including Mr Joyce, are disqualified from office. The others quit in July.
Australia’s constitution prohibits dual citizens from being elected.
Mr Joyce’s exit puts pressure on the government, which only had a one-seat majority when he was in office.
He could return through a by-election.
The deputy prime minister, who renounced New Zealand citizenship in August, has pledged to re-contest his lower house seat.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Little Jackie Paper 31st Oct '17 - 10:48pm

    That link is actually quite interesting. On the face of it at least that really does sound like an amazingly dumb set of rules. OK, I assume that this is unforeseen but it’s far from unforeseeable, surely?

    Anyone know how those rules came about or what the intention was because it’s not obvious on the face of it.

  • Is it the case we have MPs who have dual American citizenship and sit in the House of Commons as MPs ?

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Nov '17 - 9:01am

    Boris Johnson used to have dual British/US citizenship – he renounced his US citizenship while he was London mayor, having previously been MP for Henley.


  • Laurence Cox 1st Nov '17 - 10:08am

    Nancy Astor was an American citizen, and she was the first woman to take her seat in the Commons.

  • The text of the relevant bit of the Australian constitution (section 44i) is:

    “Any person who [i]s under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”

    It was included in the 1901 Australian constitution, but I don’t know why.

  • Daniel Carr 1st Nov '17 - 3:23pm


    The UK doesn’t have a formal written constitution, and no protocol to prevent an MP from having dual citizenship. The rule in Australia isn’t exactly a complete outlier, but many other jurisdictions don’t have such a rule (e.g. Canada).

    @Little Jackie Paper

    It’s worth keeping in mind the context during which the Australian constitution was written. Most of the ‘immigrant’ (non-Indigenous) population was from the Commonwealth, and in 1901 (date of federation when the constitution came into being) and the decades leading up no Cth nations had differentiated citizenship to discern between a national (eg British or Australian) and a Cth citizen.

    So for a long time before and after 1901, the majority of the population (and certainly the majority of those likely to run for and be elected to office) were simply Cth citizens, and this status applied regardless of where in the Cth they or their parents were born. This probably seemed fine to the drafters of the constitution, as they were quite frightened about non-white immigration, and wanted Australia to be grounded in a very British culture.

    It was only after Cth nations created distinct national citizenships, and Australia followed suit, that the rule started to ensnare some politicians who would in prior decades not had a problem. Of course now the population is a lot more diverse, so anyone with non-Cth heritage may also have problems, but the change from Cth to national citizenship is the reason it’s only become an issue more recently.

  • Daniel Carr 1st Nov '17 - 3:28pm

    Another point worth noting:

    There is evidence that several MPs (and even a Prime Minister*) fell afoul of this rule between 1901 and now, but in the pre-internet age it was much harder to do detective work of the kind required to find people out, so these issues were discovered after they retired from politics or passed away. I’m sure there are a sizeable number who were ineligible, but no one ever dug deep enough to find them out.

    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Watson

  • Simon Banks 31st Dec '17 - 3:55pm

    The intention is actually pretty obvious. It’s that any public representative should be fully committed to and responsible to the country which (s)he represents. Understandably, it was evidently felt that someone who had dual citizenship might act in public office in ways which benefited his or her other country, or be influenced by pressures the other country could bring to bear. The US constitution used to (maybe it still does) ban US citizens from accepting foreign honours such as knighthoods or aristocratic titles and this was because there was a real fear that the new and vulnerable American state could, like Poland, be subverted by major foreign powers bribing influential people, and bribes could be in titles as well as in cash or property.

    Of course, a Liberal might argue that provided dual citizenship or other entanglements was openly acknowledged, the people could judge if it mattered.

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