READING DOWN SECTION 44(i) OF THE AUSTRALIAN CONSTITUTION AS A METHOD OF AFFIRMING AUSTRALIAN CITIZENSHIP IN THE 21st CENTURY

Noa Bloch, Kim Rubenstein

Abstract


Until 2017, the most recent disqualification of a member of the Australian Parliament under section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution (‘Constitution’) was Senator Heather Hill in 1998. Remarkably, since 2017, almost twenty years after Sue v Hill, ten parliamentarians have resigned or been disqualified, triggering a series of by-elections.

The catalyst for this flurry of activity occurred in July 2017, when Greens senator Scott Ludlam announced that at the time of his election, he was a citizen of New Zealand and was incapable of sitting in parliament under section 44(i). He was the first of ten senators and members of parliament to be referred to the High Court of Australia in the cases of Re Canavan and later Re Gallagher on questions of eligibility under section 44(i). Eight of these parliamentarians were disqualified, sparking national debate around parliamentary representation and membership within the Australian community.

Since Re Canavan and Re Gallagher and indeed well before those cases, the section had and has continued to attract popular, journalistic, parliamentary and academic criticism. Consequently, there have been calls for a referendum on section 44(i) for a significant period of time. While the authors support this call, this article reflects on the cases and develops a different interpretive approach to section 44(i) which if argued by the parties and adopted by the Court, would have rendered a referendum unnecessary. By drawing on the earlier section 41 of the Australian Constitution case of R v Pearson; Ex parte Sipka and its majority judgment, as well as drawing upon the minority judgment of Murphy J and a more recent feminist judgment written by Kim Rubenstein, one of the authors of this article, we argue that the principles of representative democracy and the sovereignty of the people could have acted as a frame to read down section 44(i). Had this approach been adopted, the Court could have effectively placed the decision around disqualification of parliamentarians around the issue of dual citizenship, back into the hands of the elected representatives

Keywords


Australian Constitution, s. 44 Australian Constitution, Representative Democracy, Sovereignty of the People, Murphy J, Eligibilty of MPs, Nationality as Parliamentary Qualification, Citizenship as Parliamentary Qualification, Dual Citizenship, R v Pearson

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