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Wednesday, 24 June 1998
Page: 3986

Senator BROWN (5:34 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

As every election approaches, 1.4 million teachers, posties and other public servants who might like to stand for parliament have to decide whether it is worth resigning their jobs in order to do so. Australian citizens who also are citizens of another country have to go to great lengths to repudiate their dual citizenship if they want to nominate for election.

Section 44 of the constitution is the problem. It stops anyone who holds an `office of profit under the Crown' or who is a citizen of another country—as well as Australia—from nominating for parliament. This situation is discriminatory, and it deprives the federal parliament of a huge pool of talented potential politicians, including every public servant. At every recent election it has caused trouble and expense as someone unwittingly falls foul of the constitution.

Everyone agrees that section 44 of the constitution should be changed. All parties supported a Greens' motion in the Senate to that effect in October 1996 and called on the government to bring forward a proposal for constitutional amendment. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, reporting on the 1996 election, recommended:

That at an appropriate time, such as in conjunction with the next Federal election, a referendum be held on a) applying the "office of profit" disqualification in section 44(iv) from the start of an MP's term, rather than from the time of nomination, and b) deleting section 44(i) on "foreign allegiance" and otherwise amending the Constitution to make Australian citizenship a necessary qualification for membership of the Parliament. (Rec. 39)

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs examined subsections 44(i) and 44(iv) of the constitution in detail, and it recommended that a referendum be held to amend them. The government's response to these recommendations has been supportive:

Subject to the qualifications outlined below, the government would support amendments of subsections 44(i) and 44(iv) of the Constitution to overcome the shortcomings identified by the Committee. It accepts that constitutional and legislative action is the only realistic way in which to overcome these shortcomings. (Government response to the Report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, `Aspects of Section 44 of the Constitution".

Yet no bill for a referendum has been forthcoming in this place or the House of Representatives. This bill, the Greens' Constitution Alteration (Right to Stand for Parliament—Qualification of Members and Candidates) Bill, is the simplest way of amending the constitution to fix the problem. The cheapest time to hold a referendum is in conjunction with an election. No-one disputes the need for change. So let us get on with it.