If the dual citizen scandal wasn’t bad enough that it claimed the Deputy Prime Minister and the deputy leader of the National Party among others last week, the situation became even more diabolical this week when Senate president, Liberal Stephen Parry confirmed he is also a British citizen and resigned.
The problem is the question on everyone’s mind, how many more sitting on the benches are ineligible?
Despite the assurance of proper vetting processes by the Liberals and the Labor party, who to this point have escaped the technical axe, and the spectacular misstep of the Prime Minister erroneously prejudging the validity of his Minister’s cases, the real consequence of this seeming debacle is evaporating confidence.
Senator Parry’s decision to sit back and watch the High Court drama unfold then come forward has only made the matter worse. But under the circumstances he can’t expect a lot of sympathy among voters. The delay looks like concealment and further erodes the confidence of Australians which has grown out of the perceived incompetence of leaders unable to even fill in paper work.
Now the latest in the firing line is Resources Minister and member for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg. whose mother fled from Hungary after the second world war.
On the other hand this debacle is looking like a strangely pointless witchhunt, thrilling to the Canberra press gallery pack but farcical to everyone else. Fyrdenberg protests his innocence and whether he is or not, one has to wonder if we are going to persecute the son of a stateless Jewish refugee driven from Hungary by Nazi persecution and the horror of war, because she wanted a better life. Isn’t the thing that made Australia great the capacity to absorb these refugees, the outcasts of the world who found a home and enriched Australia? Where the very next generation could represent no less than the seat of Menzies in the affluent east of Melbourne?
If it isn't, we could be sliding dangerously close to the paranoid extremities of the United Sates where even a president was obsessed with the birthplace conspiracies of nationality that raged over Obama. A nation now feeling the violent polarity of this fear and xenophobia.
As noted before most of the Australian cases ultimately are sins of omission.
Debate about the inviolability of the constitution is one thing (and the high court has made its reading of the law clear) but this is not a question of the politicians dedication to Australia, but rather another nations almost purely technical hold on them through historical anomaly and parentage.
Putting aside the law, which of course we can’t without a change to the constitution, what is the consequence of this apart from a parliamentary meltdown, more point scoring and headlines?
Would the public brand the politicians omission as detestable and unaccountable as the misspending of public funds, as say the Choppergate scandal of Bronwyn Bishop?
Worth recalling as well that as far back as 1998 the Parliament's Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee examined the issue and, recognising its complexity in the modern world, recommended the subsection be replaced with a basic requirement that MPs be Australian citizens, and parliament decide what grounds of foreign allegiance would disqualify MPs.
Changing the constitution may seem like the obvious solution but historically reform failure is highly likely, needing majorities of both votes and states.
But for now what will restore the confidence? A full audit of both houses or even a full double dissolution or a change of the constitution so the the issue is no longer an issue?