It is difficult to understand Attorney General George Brandis’ actions and reactions with regard to the Turnbull government’s citizenship fiasco. Initially he asked that the poor, ignorant members of parliament should not be punished for not knowing they held dual citizenship. He argued in his submission to the High Court that section 441 should only apply to someone who has “voluntarily obtained or retained” that second citizenship. What this is in effect saying is that we have to trust politicians when they say that they didn’t know they held dual citizenship2. Does anyone really think that a politician wouldn’t lie to protect their $200k per annum salary? The old saying ‘never stand between a politician and a bag of money’ is an old saying for good reason. Ignorance is no defence when it comes to the law, and I suspect that it is fortunate that Brandis is not currently practising law. I can just hear him pleading a case “My client did not know that it was illegal to do 80kph in a school zone when he wiped out the children on the zebra crossing, so it should be construed by the jury as just a tragic accident”. Fortunately, the High Court justices are not as bereft of knowledge or intelligence as Brandis seems to believe they are, or indeed he himself is.
Brandis also argued that Joyce’s “case likewise illustrates the potential for reasonable inquiries to generate incorrect information, for his affidavit discloses that, when he first made inquiries as to whether he was a citizen of New Zealand, his staff were advised by the New Zealand high commission and the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs that it was necessary to apply in order to become a New Zealand citizen”. This is based on a misunderstanding of Section 44 of the constitution which states not that a person has to be a citizen of another country, but that they have the right to citizenship1. Whether they apply for it or not is immaterial.
Brandis has ruled out changes to section 44, contradicting Turnbull, at the same time decrying the “almost brutal literalism” of the decision. That was because the justices rightly rejected the Brandis defence of ignorance3.
Unfortunately, Barnaby Joyce has added his two-bobs’ worth in his inimitable buffoonish style. He said: “Everywhere I go, the overwhelming sentiment in the New England is people are saying: ‘How could you be born in the Tamworth Base Hospital, where your great grandmother was born in Tamworth, where your great grandfather was born in Glen Innes, where you served in the Australian Army Reserves and somehow you are not an Australian’…”4 This is Joyce trying to explain his ignorance of section 44 to those at least partly ignorant of the role of the constitution. Joyce is a buffoon who is, or belongs to a party that is so slack, that his citizenship was not checked, despite his knowing that his father was born in New Zealand.
Before running for office, former premier of New South Wales, Kristina Keneally, seemed to have no problem obeying the Constitution of New South Wales which has similar citizenship provisions as the Commonwealth Constitution6. Given that she seemed to be able to cope easily, why should we alter the Commonwealth Constitution to allow the stupid to more easily get into public office. There are enough idiots in parliament already.