A Constitution in Crisis

By Phoebe Bates


Section 44 is a relic of a bygone era, a reminder of our deeply nationalistic, xenophobic and racist past. It was drafted by men who lived in a different Australia, an Australia that was genuinely paranoid about invasion and overthrow.

In 2017, the language of section 44 is completely and utterly absurd. The current threat of domestic terrorism proves the point that an Australian birth does not mean an Australian loyalty.

The integrity of parliament and the loyalty of MPs are important issues.

But the very idea that Larissa Waters and Justin Trudeau may have been plotting to invade Australia, forcing us to pour maple syrup on savoury breakfast foods, is as disturbing as it is completely ridiculous.

Given the forced resignation of not one, but three, Senators, I think it’s time to stop treating the debate as merely academic. It’s time to stop shrugging our shoulders when faced with another difficult constitutional dilemma and resigning ourselves to the time-worn, “Ahh well, it’s the constitution, it’s Mabo, it’s justice, it’s the law, it’s the vibe”.

Australians are famously good at avoiding meaningful action on constitutional change. Republicanism and Aboriginal constitutional recognition are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Why? Because these issues raise complex and difficult questions about our national identity and how far (or not so far) we’ve come since the Constitution was drafted in 1890s.

It’s like looking into a mirror the morning after a big night out. It’s daunting and a bit TMI. There are uncovered pimples, last night’s eye makeup and the remnants of decisions that truthfully, we’d just rather forget.

The sheer number of Australian citizens who are potentially precluded from running for public office is mind-blowing. The latest census shows that 28 per cent of Australians were born overseas. That’s more than one in four people. No wonder there is a serious lack of multiculturalism in Parliament.

While I accept that not every Australian born overseas remains a dual citizen, these figures still highlight the significant number of people who are affected by section 44.

And is dual citizenship really indicative of an individual’s eligibility to be elected to parliament? Shouldn’t voters be entrusted to decide whether their MP is loyal to their community and country?

I cannot think of anything more patriotic than wanting to run for an elected office. Seriously. The very act of putting your hand up to represent the people of Australia is a bold statement in terms of “fledging allegiance”.

Scott Ludlam built a reputation as an outspoken fighter for online privacy rights, national security and environmental causes.

Larissa Waters made headlines around the world when her daughter Alia became the first baby to feed on the floor of Federal Parliament. She has fought tirelessly to protect the Great Barrier Reef, overturned cuts to domestic violence services and protested offshore detention of asylum seekers.

The latest victim of section 44, Matt Canavan, is a passionate representative of Australia’s regional areas and has spent most of his political life fighting to protect job-producing industries and promote property ownership.

Section 44 has claimed people who were elected on their merits to represent their community. We have lost talented and dedicated politicians. We have been let down by our constitution and its “vibes”.