|Title||QUALIFICATION OF SENATORS
|Speaker||Knowles, Sen Susan
Senator KNOWLES (5:58 PM) âI speak on behalf of the government on this motion and say that the government will not have any part of this stunt, either. There is a considerable degree of history to this whole issue. It is a shame that Senator Harris comes in here clearly without any knowledge of that history. That is not to be harsh on Senator Harris, but I would have thought that, when he raises matters such as this, it would rest with him to find out what it is all about. The Constitution provides very clearly:
Any person whoâ
(i) Is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power . . . or is a subject or a citizen of a foreign power . . .
is disqualified from being chosen or of sitting as a member of parliament. It is crystal clear. Senator Harris mentioned in his contribution to the Senate that Mrs Hill's misfortune is his good fortune. In response to Senator Harris's statement about misfortune, I have to say that I do not believe it is any misfortune at all. It is purely and simply an inability to read the documentation that is provided to every candidate prior to nomination for the election.
If there is somehow a misfortune about someone being disqualified prior to entry, think what a gross misfortune it must be to people like former Senator Robert Wood, an Independent New South Wales senator, who was here for some time and then ruled ineligible. Look at someone like Phil Cleary from Victoria, who was in the House of Representatives for quite some time before being ruled ineligible. And there are other circumstances that surround all of these things. They were not looked upon as being someone who was unfortunate in the way in which they were removed from the parliament. It happened to be a crystal clear case of their not abiding by the Constitution.
I cannot understand why Senator Harris comes in here and says that there is something that we all have to prove when in fact we are the people who have read the documentation that has been provided and Mrs Hill has not. That just happens to be a statement of fact. It is not a case of trying to knock One Nation out of the Senate, as Senator Harris has claimed. Shock, horror: One Nation and its office holders have to abide by the law of the land, as does every other political party and individual. So why should Senator Harris be so indignant and come in here and say that we somehow have to prove that we are Australians? Such an attempt to cast a shadow over every senator and member really does warrant the old Australian phrase, `Either put up or zip up.' You cannot come in here and just lay accusations down without substantiating them.
It is not often that I have to agree with something that Senator Faulkner says, but the press conference announcing this motion was a reflection, sadly, of the way One Nation treats this parliament and treats the whole institution of government. To hear on the morning that Senator Harris was sworn in that there was going to be a press conference given by Senator Harris and Mrs Hill that day of `national importance' really did become a bit of a farce, to put it very politely. There is nothing of national importance in this at all. So far as the present constitutional rule in section 44(i) is concerned, the government thinks the constitutional and statutory framework is quite satisfactory to ensure that people do not stand for election if they are disqualified. So what is the problem that Senator Harris has got? The government believes that the Constitution and the Commonwealth laws already provide an adequate framework for ensuring that members of the Commonwealth parliament are not disqualified under that section of the Constitution.
The law which applies to dual citizenship of members of parliament is perfectly clear. The Australian Electoral Commission, as I said before, gives candidates plenty of warning about it, and it is absurd for One Nation, for Mrs Hill or for Senator Harrisâand I am sure, as is the opposition, that this all comes from Mrs Hill and not from Senator Harrisâto say that they are incapable of heeding all the warnings and therefore they have to somehow be forgiven. Then to come in here and to make a proposal that people prove they are not citizens of a foreign country is even more outrageous. What we would do there is actually reverse the onus of proof. What is Senator Harris trying to do? I think it is quite bizarre.
The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 sets out the qualifications which candidates for election to the Commonwealth parliament must satisfy. The act requires candidates for election to the Senate and the House of Representatives to consider whether they are qualified to be elected. I want to state quite clearly what the process is. When a person is nominated for election to the parliament, the person must declare in the nomination paper that he or she is qualified under the Constitution and the laws of the Commonwealth to be elected. That is the candidate's responsibility and nobody else's. The finger cannot be pointed at anybody else saying, `They didn't do it.' If a person is disqualified, it is the person who signed the nomination form who simply has to point the finger back at themselves and say, `I didn't do it.'
The Australian Electoral Commission provides an information kit to candidates for election. Let us talk specifically about the election of 1998, last year, when Mrs Hill was supposedly elected. The kit for that federal election drew candidates' attention to the disqualification in section 44(i) of the Constitution and it informed candidates that dual citizenship could be a ground for disqualification if candidates had not taken all reasonable steps to renounce dual citizenship before nomination. The kit included advice on renunciation procedures for various countries, including the United Kingdom. So there is hardly any claim that anyone can make who has got half a wit about them that they were unprepared or given insufficient or inadequate information. There is already an adequate mechanism for ensuring that candidates satisfy the requirements for eligibility. It directs candidates' attention to this issue and requires them to consider whether they meet statutory and constitutional qualifications. If the candidate does not do that, that is not the fault of the Senate. These are matters that, without question, are best considered by the candidates themselves, as it is only they who possess the information that is required to be put on the nomination form and it is only they who sign that nomination form.
The election of a person who is disqualified from being elected because of section 44(i) of the Constitution can also be challenged in court proceedings, as has now been demonstrated by Mrs Hill's case. So there is no point in crying foul after the event. Therefore, the government considers that these mechanisms ensure that dual citizenship issues arising in relation to members of parliament can be dealt with adequately and it does not believe that any parliamentary surveillance is necessary or that any stunts are necessary. Let us face it: that is all that this is. This is purely and simply yet again another One Nation publicity stunt, nothing more and nothing less. It is totally and utterly unnecessary and is just simply wasting the time of the Senate.