Dual citizenship saga: Inquiry to address crisis commences

Malcolm Turnbull on same sex marriage

A parliamentary inquiry has begun into possible changes to the constitution and federal laws in the light of the MP citizenship scandal, media reports said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked the joint standing committee on electoral matters to look at the issue, which has led to two lower house by-elections and the replacement of a swag of senators, SBS reported.

Section 44 of the constitution not only bans dual nationals from standing for parliament, but also disqualifies anyone who holds an “office of profit under the Crown” or has a “direct or indirect pecuniary interest” in an agreement with the Commonwealth.

Mr Turnbull told the committee many Australians who wish to serve in the parliament may be discouraged from doing so because of the constitutional barriers.

The inquiry will look at how electoral laws and their administration could be improved to minimise the risk of candidates being found ineligible.

Solutions could include a more comprehensive questionnaire prior to nominations, or assistance in swiftly renouncing foreign citizenship.

As well, it will examine whether the parliament could legislate to make section 44 operate in a more predictable way, such as by providing a standard procedure for renunciation of foreign citizenship, or by altering procedures for challenging a parliamentarian’s qualifications in the High Court.

A more radical approach – changing the constitution to provide that an Australian citizen born in Australia is not disqualified unless they have acknowledged, accepted or acquiesced in foreign citizenship – will also be canvassed.

The committee will also provide feedback on whether other parts of section 44 should be changed.

The report on citizenship issues will be delivered by March 23 next year and the remainder by June 30.

Senators have until December 1 to lodge details about their eligibility, while lower house members have until December 5.

The government has left it open for parliament to sit in the week starting December 11 to deal with any outstanding citizenship issues.