Author: Kim Fischer (Page 1 of 10)

Labor paid the price of not considering all voters

Rather than accept that federal Labor’s campaign was a failure, Andrew Leigh has made the remarkable claim that the Greens should have been “campaigning for stronger progressives” by targeting conservatives and leaving Labor unchallenged.

This is unrealistic. The Greens’ far-left rhetoric will never convince a conservative voter to switch, nor is it meant to. The Greens have no formal alliance with Labor and are entitled to pursue their own political goals. However, the problem for Labor is that Greens attacks play well to their base while entrenching and galvanising the Liberal vote. Labor needs to be very cautious of being seen to support Greens positions.

Unlike the Greens who can campaign on issues without consequence, Labor is a party of government. Just as Whitlam delivered universal health care and education for all Australians, and Hawke and Keating sold superannuation as an essential planning tool for every worker, Labor should present a platform that benefits all Australians.

But in this election, Labor’s policies targeted the 60 per cent of voters they thought were enough to win government, pitting communities against communities. Franking credits, equivocation about the Adani mine, and the sneering tone about conservative religion all added to the electorate’s perception that Labor would only help those it deemed “worthy” of help.

This led to many voters seeing Labor as a party that couldn’t be trusted. Even if they weren’t in the crosshairs this time, Labor might randomly choose to target them next.

Sometime in the past 10 years, Labor has changed from a party that governs for all into one that sees the world in terms of those who are “in” and those who are “out”.

This manifests in a few ways. Last year I wrote about the culture of appeasement spreading through ACT Labor, with disagreement being strongly discouraged. The major factional leaders; Andrew Leigh, Katy Gallagher and Andrew Barr all hold near-identical political ideologies.

ACT Labor members are a clique of exceedingly well educated, well connected, and overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon people. They live very comfortably and prioritise social justice and environmental concerns.

This is praised as “unity” but it comes at the expense of freezing out and ridiculing alternative views.

ACT Labor’s homogenous approach only works because the local population is also relatively comfortable and well-off. An ACT employee earns median wages almost 25 per cent higher than the national median wage. ACT Labor may govern for a healthy majority, but I wonder about how it treats the rest. When I walk through Civic and see so many homeless people under park benches, I ask myself: how can this be the result of a 20-year Labor government?

Adani also demonstrates the disconnect of the ACT from the rest of Australia. For months, Canberra has hosted regular Stop Adani protests. Yet the same protesters would no doubt be incensed at the Liberals’ current efforts to decentralise public service jobs to regional areas.

The most basic priority of Labor should be for all workers to have the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. The blatant hypocrisy of fighting to keep public service jobs in Canberra while not fighting for those who want jobs in Queensland is astonishing. Labor should always protect those who are less powerful, not pursue the “greater good” while leaving others behind.

When Labor loses, we all lose. Technology is replacing workers and our industries are evolving. It is up to people like Andrew Leigh, a well-regarded economist, to step up and be the architect of solutions that address the challenges of modern working life throughout Australia.

Leigh should be explaining to everybody Labor members why what the ACT wants isn’t what the nation wants.

It is not his job to pander to unrealistic values and positions that others cannot afford. Losing a few votes in a safe Labor seat to the Greens is a small price to pay.

Most Australians don’t want to be involved in ideological wars. They just want secure jobs and income for a better life. These are traditional Labor values.

Any party can be “unified” if all its members think and act alike, but groupthink in Labor is turning into a real problem. Too many candidates, political staffers, journalists, lobbyists, and other influencers who have spent time in Canberra believe that ACT solutions can be applied to local problems faced by the rest of Australia.

Right now, federal Labor needs to deeply reconsider what Labor stands for. We have become too obsessed about competing for votes with the Greens, instead of working out our position in relation to them. We can be a better party than trying to cunningly win 51 per cent of the vote.

We need to make room for greater diversity amongst Labor members and ask our MPs to work harder and think bigger. Labor reforms can only succeed when everyone feels they are part of the journey.

We can’t pretend everything in ACT public schools is fine

Why not have an independent review of the ACT public education system?

The open letter published in The Canberra Times on 8 March by the ACT Council of P&C Associations, ACT Principals’ Association and the Australian Education Union is dismaying on many levels.

Each of these peak body organisations are meant to be advocates for excellence in ACT public schools. The fact that they have chosen to deny all systemic problems, even before an investigation is carried out, says a great deal about their attitudes.

The first instinct of all three advocacy groups was to protect the reputation of the system they are meant to be supporting and scrutinising, not to find out the truth of the situation.

There was not one word of sympathy for the 17 families who were so distressed at being ignored that they signed and sent a petition to the Minister. No mention of the violence against ACT principals being the highest in the country. Neither was there a single note of concern that it took the Education Directorate three months to “attempt to make contact” with all of the families who signed the petition, despite “personal assurances” given to the Minister that the systems in place to deal with these issues was appropriate.

Remember that this petition was sent after parents had been talking with schools and the Directorate since 2017, and after four separate letters were sent to the Minister in 2018. This was an act of desperation.

There are two possibilities to explain this seeming callousness.

The first is that the Minister and the senior management of the ACT Education Directorate didn’t feel it was important to personally ensure that these families were supported and that their concerns were actively addressed. If this is true, all of them should resign immediately.

However, I genuinely don’t believe any of these people enjoy seeing others in distress. This makes it very hard to understand why everyone from the Minister, the Directorate, Principals, Union Officials and the P&C peak body should be so keen to pretend a problem doesn’t exist.

I believe the key lies in the line towards the end of the open letter where we are implored “not to undermine public confidence in our education system”. The truth is that everyone with a stake in the public education system is terrified at what a true independent investigation would uncover.

It is likely that the results would not even be that bad, objectively speaking. Their concern is that any failures would be paraded in the media, and then be used by the Canberra Liberals as an excuse to divert funding into private education.

The irony is that the cry to “protect the system” is now more important than “think of the children”. The fallacy is that since public education is an intrinsic good; therefore, we must protect public education at all costs. The actual lives of families and children in public schools become secondary to the system that is meant to be serving them.

No system, especially those funded by the public, should be immune from transparency, investigation, and improvement.

I can only imagine how abandoned the families who signed the petition must have felt when they read the dismissive attitudes in the open letter.

The Canberra Liberals should go on the public record and affirm that they will not use the results of an independent review as a justification to cut funds. This is an opportunity to avert fears and establish that they are truly concerned. Canberra people are rightly proud of their investment in public education and want a better system, not a mediocre one due to inadequate funding or weak leadership.

If those involved in this debacle were truly committed to excellence then an independent review would be an opportunity, not a threat.

Seven ways to improve the ACT’s education system

Given the amount of money we spend per student and our relative socioeconomic advantage, the ACT’s education system should be at the top of the class. Unfortunately, debates on performance rarely go beyond playground arguments.

Claims that any criticism of public schools is talking down the system are toxic and must be rejected outright. Equally, empty rhetoric about failing our students by the opposition must also be rejected. Voters deserve viable alternatives to current government policy, not just name-calling.

The ideological inertia of the Labor and Liberal parties in the ACT has squandered our opportunities.

The vacuous Future of Education strategy released by the ACT government this August epitomises the problem. The document has eight points that mean little, waffling about “putting students at the centre”, “empowering teachers”, and “strengthened systems”. The strategy says nothing about what will improve performance. The plan has no metrics to hit and no milestones to meet. It is a strategy that cannot fail, because virtually anything can be claimed as a success.

This ignores the real and growing problems in our education system. ANU research shows that our children are up to a year behind in learning compared to other children who come from similarly wealthy and educated populations. The most recent productivity commission report found that compared to other Australian states and territories, the ACT has the third-lowest year 12 completion rate of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The ACT should be leading the nation and helping all our kids reach their highest potential, but our politicians seem stuck. Here are seven practical suggestions on how to do better:

  1. Increasing choice in public school selection. Every school has a unique style. A more traditional academic approach may suit some students, while inquiry-based learning or play-based learning may suit others. Unfortunately, the old-fashioned and strict in-area enrolment rules for ACT schools make parents feel that they have no choice for their children’s education, purely to avoid bureaucratic inconvenience.
  2. Learning lessons from all education sectors. Everyone should have access to free, high-quality public education. We must also accept that some parents want independent schooling, given that private schools like Radford College have a seven-year waiting list. We must ask the question: what are these schools delivering that the public school system is not? Why do parents want to spend the extra money?
  3. Publishing better statistics on educational outcomes. Although NAPLAN is controversial, it remains the main available measure of school performance. The Federal Government is currently implementing the 2016 recommendations of the Productivity Commission to create a National Education Evidence Base and drive education reforms from real data. Yet the ACT’s strategy does not reference this major project once, or the opportunities to compare notes with other jurisdictions to see what works and to learn from them.
  4. Equalising resources at all public schools. It is a travesty that some ACT public schools have multiple halls and sporting ovals while others have no oval at all. The infrastructure at Weetangera School, just 3 kilometres away from Florey Primary School (with a high proportion of lower socioeconomic and ethnic children) couldn’t be more different in the facilities available to them. The government should establish an asset register and prioritise capital works for schools with lesser facilities. Every child should have access to equal resources, regardless of the age or suburb of the school they attend.
  5. Committing to introducing early childhood education for three-year olds. Research indicates that early childhood education is essential to allow people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds to achieve parity in educational outcomes. Despite the Education Minister recently announcing that the ACT government would fund education for three year olds, this transformative change is conspicuously absent from the overarching strategy and there is no timeframe for commencement.
  6. Aligning schools to the capacity of working parents. Too many schools are still designed around the benchmark of the 1980s where it was common for one parent to stay home while the other worked. Now both parents work and care for their children, with an increasing number also caring for their ageing parents. Schools shouldn’t assume parents are easily available during school days any more. Further, parents may have limited skills or capacity to help at home. Schools cannot expect parents to provide additional tuition to students who are falling behind.
  7. A greater focus on fundamentals. Reading, writing, and maths are more essential than ever. Unfortunately a seemingly endless range of fundraising and awareness “events”, often combined with undirected learning activities, provide too many opportunities for the less-motivated student to be distracted and fail to obtain these critical life skills. The ACT government should review all use of school time that isn’t delivering on the core curriculum.

The ACT Government has poured more and more money into the public education system, including rolling out school computers worth tens of millions of dollars, but it has dropped the ball on practical educational reforms in favour of glitzy initiatives. The truth is that our ACT education system is not delivering the results it should, and we need to acknowledge that openly.

We can do better. With leadership, I believe that it is possible to have a high-achieving educational system that makes children, teachers, parents, and the community proud.

ACT Labor party members, it’s time to lead the way

Much like a team playing the second quarter of an AFL football match, the second year of a government’s term in office can shape its focus and give people a strong positive or negative impression about its performance.

Political parties are at their best with a strong grassroots movement. ACT Labor membership has risen 12 per cent in the past two years and impressively, almost doubled its membership in the past decade.

However, there is little disagreement and few divergent opinions in the ACT Labor caucus, with a culture of appeasement filtering down through the party membership.

Blindly supporting the party without constructive criticism is not what is needed right now. At this point of the election cycle, we need competing ideas and robust debate as we approach the 2020 election, just as if we were in opposition and preparing to win government.

May is AGM season, where the rank and file and union members pick delegates for the ACT Labor conference in August. This year, our delegates need to push for reform and a clear vision for the next decade.

ACT Labor’s party platform commits to delivering on four key principles of social justice – equity, equality, participation, and access; and on four qualities of good government – responsibility, integrity, openness, and quality.

These principles are the core values of Labor and the essence of our brand.

However, holding the government to these principles requires a detailed manifesto and a determination to hold the government to account for its delivery.

The platform of ACT Labor should reflect our aspirations. With a territory our size we should be able to achieve zero homelessness, invest in ongoing training to achieve a world-class public service, and to innovate on public school enrolment practices to improve performance. Labor is a party that is at its best when it pushes for major reform.

Our branch conferences have devolved into theatre mainly designed to show the media our “solidarity” with the government. By avoiding debate, we have decreased the accountability of our elected representatives. The government does tick off its election commitments, however its vision is not easy to articulate. The Barr government can be characterised by its focus on development and tourism. These are not bad things as they generate jobs, but they are not the social values that are a trademark of the Labor movement.

A motion should be passed at this year’s conference to undertake a full reworking of ACT Labor’s platform in preparation for the 2020 election. Our current platform is far too long and often incoherent.

We need a new document that is modern, accessible, and inspirational to both party members and the broader public. It needs to clearly spell out commitments and expectations that we can evaluate the government against.

The process should include consultation with outside organisations to identify what they expect from a modern Labor party.

Differing points of view are needed for this type of reform and accountability. Our party needs to actively recruit more culturally and linguistically diverse members and to promote them as leaders in public life, including for public office.

Needless to say, our elected MLAs and MPs also have a leadership role in developing this platform.

Only three of the 12 ALP MLAs were elected representatives in 2011 at the end of the Stanhope government. It is vital for our representatives to initiate discussions both within and outside the party on an updated platform that is reflective of the progressive values of our entire community.

Thankfully a majority of ACT residents have a decent standard of living, but many see squandered opportunities and a growing underclass. There is a sense that our taxpayer dollar should be doing more.

For the past 20 years, the Canberra Liberals have been beholden to the most conservative elements of the party. If this changes, it may put Labor in a more precarious position.

Labor cannot rely on its veterans to get the party over the line next time. In South Australia, the government was seen as decent but without much spark. SA Labor relied heavily on Jay Weatherill and a few other senior figures. Back here in Canberra, new MLAs have been in their jobs for over 18 months. It is time for them to lead and show voters ACT Labor’s future potential.

ACT Labor needs to remind the electorate why we are worth barracking for. We have a good team on the field, but it is always better not to leave the comeback until the last quarter.

We need more ethnic names for our electorates

Ensuring that the Australian Electoral Commission operates with integrity and in a non-partisan way is essential to the Australian political process.

Unfortunately, the current redistribution process is weakened by its lack of transparency and self-awareness.

By law, the members of each state’s redistribution committee are chosen by virtue of the public service roles they occupy – the Australian Electoral Commissioner as well as the three state-based positions of Australian Electoral Officer, Surveyor-General, and Auditor-General.

Similarly, the AEC Chair and non-judicial appointee member are appointed by the Governor-General from a shortlist of eminent judges and from the list of public service agency heads, respectively.

The lack of diversity in members of the AEC redistribution committee has the potential to introduce bias.

This has been most recently seen in the ACT redistribution proposal. The committee seemed to have few qualms in discarding all proposals received for electorate names. Instead, they have endorsed yet another white Anglo-Saxon male, Charles Bean.

Despite 30% of Australians having a culturally and linguistically diverse background, only around 5% of seats out of the 150 are named after significant CALD figures. Of the 70 electorate names considered by the Committee, it appears that only one (Ruth Arndt) was from a CALD background.

This lack of diversity is surprising and regrettable, since the ACT has many significant people from migrant backgrounds. Why was Romaldo Giurgola, the architect of Parliament House, not deemed suitable for consideration? The instigator of the Hare-Clark system in the ACT, Bogey Musidlak? Or Amirah Inglis, a prolific Canberra-based writer and author from Belgium? Or even Pawe? Strzelecki, the explorer who named Mount Kosciuszko?

Choosing an electorate name is important because it becomes part of our culture. Regardless of the norms of the time, we should not be honouring Bean, an anti-Semite, when there is the opportunity to improve the representation of non-Anglo-Saxon names in Australia’s electorates. Choosing a more diverse option would familiarise people with names that sound alien to them.

With more names like Kosciuszko, Chan, Gupta, and Nguyen for our electorates, people with names hailing from those backgrounds will feel included in Australian society.

The public should know who was responsible for drawing up the list of 70 names for consideration, how diversity was considered as part of the listing process, and what criteria were used in shortlisting. If a vote on the final name is required, the vote of each committee member should be on the public record.

There is a similar lack of transparency in the process of drawing boundaries.

The ACT’s districts, and especially those centred around the town centres of Belconnen, Woden, Gungahlin, and Tuggeranong have a strong local identity and community overlap. Many people in each district work, shop locally, and send their children to local schools.

Reasonable redistribution proposals that preserved these town centres were submitted for consideration. Yet the redistribution committee’s justification for discarding these alternative proposals was scant to non-existent. Their report simply notes that “many of the suggestions and comments on suggestions received advocated for a northern-central-southern split” as if that was sufficient justification.

Receiving 10 submissions when the ACT has a population of 410,000 is not enough to prove popular support for a particular boundary approach. Some of these submissions were not even from the ACT!

I call on the AEC to formalise and publish specific guidelines for carrying out future redistributions. This should include specifying the mechanisms for ensuring that all Australians are considered when naming seats, justifying a preference for specific electorate boundaries, and handling of arguments made in public submissions.

If the public does not have confidence that their submissions will get fair consideration, they will conclude that participation in our electoral processes is a waste of time.

Electoral commission has misjudged public sentiment on Bean

After unilaterally proposing to name the new ACT electorate after war correspondent Charles Bean, there can be no doubt that the Australian Electoral Commission has badly misjudged public sentiment.

More than 70 objections were received, all but unified in their condemnation of both the process and the outcome. No one wants yet another seat named after a white Anglo-Saxon male, especially not such a divisive figure.

Our electorate names are important because they become part of the fabric of our culture. Regardless of the norms of the time, we should not be honouring Bean, an anti-Semite, when there is the opportunity to improve the representation of non-Anglo-Saxon names in Australia’s electorates. Choosing more diverse options familiarises people with names that sound alien to them and encourages their acceptance.

Many objectors endorsed the alternative choice of Ngingali Cullen, and she would be an excellent choice.
Yet this is still a missed opportunity. Only three electorates out of our 150 have a clearly ethnic name (Leichhardt, La Trobe, and Goldstein). This is a gross under-representation of the 30 per cent of Australians and 40 per cent of ACT residents who come from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) origins. We need more names like Kosciusko, Chan, Gupta, and Nguyen for our electorates. People hailing from these backgrounds need to be recognised in Australian society as well.

A large chunk of Canberra’s many ethnic people settled here due to the operation of the Snowy Scheme. In fact, the ACT has many significant people from migrant backgrounds in its history.

It would be a wonderful gesture for Romaldo Giurgola, architect of Parliament House and a long-term Canberra resident, to be honoured with a seat on the 30th anniversary of its construction. Other diverse choices include the instigator of the Hare-Clark system in the ACT, Bogey Musidlak; Amirah Inglis, a prolific Canberra-based writer and author from Belgium; and Paweł Strzelecki, the Polish explorer who named Mount Kosciusko.

It is essential that the Australian Electoral Commission operates with integrity and in a non-partisan way. This makes the committee’s choice to behave in a high-handed and tone-deaf way by choosing the name of Bean somewhat disturbing.

The key is better transparency. The public should know who was responsible for drawing up the list of 70 names for consideration, how all forms of diversity were considered as part of the listing process, and what criteria were used in shortlisting. If a vote on the final name is required, the vote of each committee member should be on the public record.

There has been a pronounced lack of humility in the AEC’s justification for drawing new electorate boundaries as well.

The ACT’s districts, and especially those centred around the town centres of Belconnen, Woden, Gungahlin, and Tuggeranong, have a strong identity. Many people in each district work, shop locally, and send their children to local schools.

Reasonable redistribution proposals that preserved these town centres intact were submitted for consideration. Yet the redistribution committee’s justification for discarding these alternative proposals was scant to non-existent. Their report simply notes that “many of the suggestions and comments on suggestions received advocated for a northern-central-southern split” as if that was sufficient justification. (In reality, less than 10 of the received submissions were in favour of this arrangement.)

The AEC must strive to better reflect the views of the population in the future. It should formalise and publish specific guidelines for carrying out future redistributions. This should include specifying the mechanisms for ensuring that all Australians are considered when naming seats, justifying a preference for specific electorate boundaries, and handling of arguments made in public submissions.

As leaders in our community, it is incumbent on the members of the ACT Redistribution Committee to take steps to ensure that Australians from all walks of life are part of the process, and feel that their contributions to our society will be recognised.

CT Editorial: Bean is worthy but decision still a missed opportunity

Those opposed to the naming of Canberra’s new Federal electorate after war correspondent and Australian War Memorial founder, Charles Bean, are shooting wide of the mark.

It is a dangerous practice to place a moratorium on honours for any of our 19th and early 20th century forbears who had the misfortune to have been “politically incorrect” by the standards of our time.

Edmund Barton, Billy Hughes, Alfred Deakin and John Curtin, like most politicians until the 1950s, were staunch champions of the “white Australia policy”.

That hasn’t stopped the nation from honouring them by naming Federal electorates in their memories.

To say Bean does not deserve the same purely on the basis of anti-semitic remarks that he subsequently regretted and made significant atonement for is double standards.

In the 1940s, at a time when public opinion was deeply divided on the matter, Bean supported the establishment of a safe refuge for the Jewish people in Australia.

He also conceded he had been wrong in opposing the promotion of Monash.

Charles Bean was, without doubt, one of the greatest Australians of his generation. He shared the hardships, and the dangers, of the diggers at Anzac Cove and on the Western front.

When asked by a dying soldier “will they remember me?” he left no stone unturned to ensure the answer was a resounding yes.

Bean was scrupulously fair in his reporting and writing and, far from traducing Monash on the basis of his religion, if anything later overstated the Australian General’s contribution to the war effort.

Bean’s 12-volume official war history and his best-selling abridged account “Anzac to Amiens” are among the most influential books published in this country in the last 100 years.

They helped to define the character of the young nation and set down the facts behind the Anzac legend for all time.

The real irony is that if Bean was alive, and able to comment on whether or not the new electorate should be named in his honour, today the odds are he would be staunchly opposed.

The Bathurst-born scribbler who took a bullet through the leg at Sari Bair on August 6, 1915, and then refused medical evacuation because he felt it was more important to record the deeds of the troops, never wanted the commemoration of Australia’s World War I sacrifice to be about him.

This is despite the fact he displayed genuine heroism at Gallipoli on May 8, 1915, rescuing a wounded soldier under fire during the second Battle of Krithia.

Bean felt his words were his monument and that the real heroes were the men he wrote about. When, many years after the war, he was offered a knighthood the journalist/historian turned it down.

The real issue is not Bean’s fitness to be honoured in this way but rather why the Australian Electoral Commission feels now is an appropriate time to honour yet another dead, white, male.

It is a shame they did not consider this an opportunity to recognise the many women, recent immigrants or people of indigenous background who are equally worthy of such an honour.

CT Editorial: Enough is enough: s44 needs to go to a referendum as soon as possible

It’s time for section 44 of the constitution to be put to the people with a view to amending what has turned out to be an outdated and cumbersome citizenship requirement that is out of step with who Australians are in the 21st century.

It is even out of step with who Australians were in the 19th century given any citizen of the British Empire, regardless of whether they had been born in New Zealand, Canada, Britain or elsewhere, was then eligible to stand for parliament.

What started off as a stoush between members of the Government and then Family First senator, Bob Day, back in 2016 has exploded into a morass of chaos that has, as of yesterday, forced at least 16 senators and MPs to resign over dual citizenship concerns.

The most high profile of the latest casualties is Katy Gallagher, the former ACT Labor chief minister who the High Court ruled had not done enough to renounce her British citizenship ahead of the 2016 election.

The irony that Ms Gallagher, who was known for her scrupulous adherence to reporting and disclosure requirements, has been caught up in this imbroglio is hard to miss.

She, like many of the others caught out, has been a strong contributor, a hard worker and a valued member of her party’s leadership group.

While it is only natural some have derived schadenfreude from the departures – either forced or voluntary – of politicians including Rod Culleton, Stephen Parry, Bob Day, Scott Ludlam, Larissa Walters, Malcolm Roberts, Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, Nick Xenophon and Jacquie Lambie, to name just a few, there are no winners here.

A number of expensive by-elections, each of which has the power to change the balance of power in the lower house, have already been held. At least four more are on the way following yesterday’s resignations.

While, as we have seen on previous occasions, the electorate is rarely happy about constitutional amendments intended to make life easier for politicians, the fact is Australia has a problem.

When s44 was originally drafted it reflected the geopolitical reality this nation was also a part of a super state called the British Empire.

Citizens moved relatively freely between various parts and the idea someone who had been born in London, Rotorua or Montreal wouldn’t be able to stand for the Australian Parliament would have been considered absurd.

Then the world moved on and Australia, like of other member countries, adopted its own citizenship laws which now overwrite the original intent of the constitution.

Given that document was not amended then, action must be taken now.

While there have been some reports a stand alone referendum on this topic could cost more than $100 million, the cost comes down if it were to be held in conjunction with a Federal Election.

Reading between the lines from Tuesday night’s budget it seems highly likely one of these will be held in the next 12 months.

Given neither side of politics has handled this debacle well, it would make sense for them to reach bilateral agreement on a referendum question to be put to the people in conjunction with the 2019 poll.

Parliament can easily fix the citizenship debacle

As the citizenship crisis rolls on, our Federal politicians need to elevate the debate beyond technical nuances and find a real solution.

A simple bipartisan agreement to amend the Electoral Act 1918, preventing spurious referrals, allowing for statutory declarations, and providing clear instructions on the appropriate interpretation of section 44 is entirely constitutional and requires no referendum to enact.

I propose two common-sense rules that the Federal Parliament should legislate.

First, if you were born in Australia and are an Australian citizen, the ancestry of your parents should never be grounds for disqualification.

Second, people who nominate to run for Parliament must sign a statutory declaration that they will not acknowledge or seek benefits from any dual citizenship. Elected members should be granted a six month grace period after election to check for and formally renounce any citizenship of their past countries of residence.

These rules are still more stringent than the rules for State & Territory Parliaments, who place no restrictions on dual citizenship at all.

But let’s take a step back.

Countries often make retrospective changes to their rules of citizenship. For example, since 1948 the UK has significantly altered citizenship entitlements no less than 15 times, often with specific time periods and exemptions. Many of those affected are not aware of the changes.

Our politicians should have been united in their recognition of the unworkability of our eligibility rules. They chose not to make a positive bipartisan statement about the diverse ancestry of our citizens. They failed to clearly state that Australians should not be searching through the ancestry of others to disqualify them from Federal Parliament.

Instead, every party sought to gain advantage for themselves. Our representatives and nominees were forced to trawl through the history of their parents and grandparents. Seven Senators and three MPs have resigned or been found ineligible by the High Court due to their citizenship, despite zero benefit to Australia’s governance or integrity.

This is not a new problem. Since at least 1980, there have been at least five attempts to hold a referendum to amend section 44. Our federal members and senators nearly unanimously recognise that its wording is archaic and unjust. As Senator Robert Ray put it in 2003, “of all those that have fallen foul of section 44, none was, in fact, guilty; it was always a technical breach. None was in a position in which they owed actual allegiance to another country; none was in a position where they could have been suborned on economic grounds—and that is absolutely clear.”

Reluctance for a referendum stems partly from the fact that most Australians agree with the principle of loyalty to Australia that section 44 espouses. At the same time, most people agree that there was no breach in spirit by those forced to quit, as seen with the recent by-election results.

The problem is that the High Court has repeatedly applied a black-letter law approach to disqualification that defies common-sense interpretations.

It is plainly ridiculous to require Australian-born citizens to write to a country in a language they have never spoken, or for adoptees to seek out biological parents they have never met to avoid falling foul of this law. Yet that is the situation as it stands today. How can we have a fair go when people are literally being judged by who their parents were?

A referendum to fix this state of affairs would be ideal. Failing that, a viable legislative solution exists today. Section 47 of the Constitution allows the Parliament to set any means it likes to resolve disputed eligibility. There is no obligation for the High Court to be involved at all.

Our politicians can fix this mess. The bickering over section 44 of the Constitution for partisan advantage must stop. The system we have is manifestly inadequate. If things are left as they are now, the same scenario will continue to play out again and again in years to come.

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