What is Tony Abbott hiding?
There’s a rather odd case that’s developing in the media and it’s the question of whether the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is fit to hold office in the Australian Parliament. Before you start thinking, ‘Oh no, not another critique on Tony Abbott’s character’, this is more to do with a technicality and nothing to do with his moral character (although that’s one thing that we’ll end up on).
According to Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, a person who is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power, is disqualified from becoming a candidate for election to the Australian Parliament. This has been widely interpreted to mean that persons with dual citizenship are not permitted to stand for election.
Tony Abbott was born in the United Kingdom in 1957, and arrived in Australia with his parents in 1960. His father is British and his mother is Australian. Although living in Australia for most of his life, he did not become an Australian citizen until 1981, a requirement for his Rhodes scholarship.
There has been conjecture for some time as to whether Tony Abbott has renounced his British citizenship but the issue has developed further over the past month, with the investigations by Tony Magrathea, detailing his attempts to determine whether this renunciation ever occurred, starting to become more prominent.
This seems to be such a small (but important) matter, that is seems peculiar that Tony Abbott’s chief-of-staff, Peta Credlin, has gone to great lengths to refuse Freedom of Information requests for access to any available documentation from the National Archives of Australia, or the British Office of Records.
It seems that there are three possibilities in this issue:
Tony Abbott renounced his British citizenship, as required by the Australian Constitution, before seeking election in early 1994. If this is the case, to stop this issue spiraling out of control and continuing to be a minor irritant, Tony Abbott should release documentation showing that he formally renounced his British citizenship.
Tony Abbott renounced his British citizenship sometime after his election in 1994. If this is the case, it’s not possible to ‘unelect’ a person after they have completed a parliamentary term – but Section 46 of the Constitution stipulates the disciplinary measure for sitting in Parliament while disqualified; the sum of £100 per day of sitting. Again, Tony Abbott should release any documentation, pay any disciplinary fines (accumulated at the appropriate Commonwealth Bonds rate), and work out a way of explaining this to the Australian public. This would be an embarrassment, but with two years before the next federal election, a minor irritant would be removed.
Tony Abbott has not renounced his British citizenship and, if this is the case, he would be disqualified from Parliament. A by-election in the seat of Warringah would be called and he would need to be re-elected to resume his seat. I would imagine that the Liberal Party would call the by-election urgently – there are no set times for how soon a by-election can be held – the by-election for the seat of East Sydney in 1903 was held 17 days after it was declared vacant. Under this scenario, we would have another Prime Minister, probably the current Treasurer, Joe Hockey (although, who knows what kind of a result a Coalition party room ballot would throw up).
The precedents for this latter possibility are clear. Jackie Kelly, a Minister in the Howard Government, was elected to Parliament during the general election of 1996 but, after a challenge by the Labor Party on the basis of her citizenship status and employment by the Crown, her election was declared invalid and a by-election was held. After she renounced her New Zealand citizenship and terminated her employment with the RAAF, she won that by-election with an even greater margin, but the point is that her initial candidacy was declared invalid. The One Nation candidate in the Senate, Heather Hill, was also ruled ineligible after the 1998 general election.
In this situation, Tony Abbott could not survive. Aside from the ignominy, a Prime Minister who scorns asylum seekers for throwing away their documentation and demands that the unemployed should document two job applications every day, can’t even get his own house in order and ensure that his candidacy in the Parliament is legal? The Labor Party would have a field day.
While many broken promises have been brushed away by the Prime Minister and truth-stretching has become the norm for this Government, this is not a situation that can be easily flicked away, or explained in half-truths and blatant lies. It would entrench ideas in the electorate that there is one rule for one, and other rule for others or, in this case, a rule not even properly adhered to. It would also go to the heart of competency.
Ultimately, it might not matter to the Australian public. But, the Australian Constitution is an important document and the rules are there for all to see. The laws and sections of the Constitution are either important, or they are not, and as Tony Abbott claims to be a firm believer in constitutional law, he’d be the first one to recognise this.
The office of the Prime Minister is going to great lengths to withhold information about whether Tony Abbott has renounced his British citizenship. It would be better for the Prime Minister to release any documentation that is relevant to this, and clear up this matter of public importance.
Tagged Australian politics, is tony abbott citizen, new politics, proof of citizenship, renounce citizenship, Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, sitting in Australian parliament illegally, tony abbott, tony abbott born in UK, tony abbott British citizenship