More and more politicians down under are losing their seats in parliament due to a long neglected but recently resurgent constitutional ban on MPs holding dual citizenship. The Wall Street Journal reports:
[Barnaby] Joyce, […] Australia’s deputy prime minister, is the highest-ranking lawmaker so far to fall foul of an obscure constitutional rule stating that lawmakers must not owe allegiance to a foreign power.
He discovered the breach when New Zealand diplomats informed him he was a dual citizen because his father was born there. On Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English confirmed that Mr. Joyce is a Kiwi.
Mr. Joyce’s citizenship status potentially threatens the government’s narrow grip on power. He leads the Nationals, the junior partner in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ruling conservative coalition. His disqualification would likely trigger a by-election, potentially imperiling the government’s one-seat majority in the lower house.
Until July, only two lawmakers in history had ever run afoul of the divided loyalty clause in Australia’s 116-year-old constitution. But in the past month, thanks to a wave of inquisitions, five lawmakers have now been scooped up in its net.
Mr. Joyce is the second accidental New Zealander of the lot. The first, former Greens MP Scott Ludlam, resigned on July 14 after finding out he was still officially a Kiwi despite settling in Australia with his family before he turned 9.
“Resigned as, bro,” he tweeted to supporters, a play on the New Zealand slang: “sweet as, bro,” meaning “everything’s OK.”
Another recent casualty, former resources minister Matt Canavan, unwittingly obtained Italian citizenship when his mother applied for it on his behalf. As a result, Signor Canavan had to resign his parliamentary seat and cabinet position on July 25. He did not tweet any Italian slang.
The Journal notes that “the divided loyalty rule is especially inconvenient in a country where nearly half the population was either born overseas or had at least one parent born abroad, according to the latest census,” which brings us to a question many Australians are probably asking as their elected representatives are forced to step down in droves: does an MP dual citizenship ban make any sense in Australia? And if allegiance to foreign powers is the real issue, is that still a concern when a legislator is unaware of her dual citizenship?
In case you’re keeping score, there is no dual nationality ban for US Members of Congress, although the president must be a “natural born citizen.”