Australia – Guns, climate change and dual citizenship: Cabinet papers shed light on early Howard years

Always interesting to see how previous governments grappled with issues, in this case the Australian government under PM Howard, and how officials provided significant advice that for some reason was ignored, resulting in the recent crisis regarding parliamentarians who were dual citizens:

Creating dual citizenship

In April 1996, then-Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said it was “urgent” to move ahead with reforms that would allow Australian citizens to pick up a second citizenship for the first time.

Back then, Australians automatically lost their citizenship if they acquired another nationality. 

Mr Ruddock said this was inconsistent. Migrants to Australia were often allowed to keep their home citizenships, but dual-citizenship was off-limits to natural-born Australians.

It would be another six years before the Howard government changed the law in 2002 — but the 1996 submission got the ball rolling.

The minister was concerned about some backlash from RSL groups, but said the prohibition was a matter of “great concern” to those affected.

He compared Australia with the countries that allowed dual citizenship at the time — like France, New Zealand, the USA, Israel and Syria — and those that did not, like Indonesia, Iran, Norway and Austria.

If only they knew

Right at the end of the submission, officials from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet make a prescient warning.

Allowing Australians to become dual citizens was all well and good — but it could cause problems for parliamentarians down the line. 

“Acceptance of the proposals would increase the disparity between the qualifications for citizenship and those for elected office,” the department wrote.

Under Section 44 of the Constitution, politicians are not allowed to run for office if they hold a dual nationality.

The unprecedented High Court drama of 2018 proved them correct, as more than 10 senators and MPs were ejected from their seats.

Source: Guns, climate change and dual citizenship: Cabinet papers shed light on early Howard years

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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