Dual citizenship: A neoliberal crisis

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Member for Bennelong John Alexander has resigned due to dual citizenship (Image via @John.Alexander.MP).

The s44 fiasco has highlighted the born-to-rule incompetence of the Turnbull Government and its lack of policy and action; this is a crisis of neoliberalism, says John Passant.

AUSTRALIAN politics is in crisis.

The latest (at the time of writing) casualty of Section 44 of the Australia Constitution Act is Liberal Member for Bennelong John Alexander. His father was born in Britain so, to cut a long story short, he is a dual citizen.

On 11 November, Alexander resigned from Parliament. There will now be a by-election for his seat, which he will likely win hands down. That by-election can be held as early as 16 December if writs are issued by Monday 13 November.  

John Alexander is not the last Member of Parliament who might have to travel down this road. Chief Government Whip Nola Marino married an Italian and, incredibly, because of this, she too might fall foul of s44. There will probably be more as time goes on.

Some are Labor and some are Liberal. Even Aboriginal Labor Senator Pat Dodson has had his eligibility called into question, but it appears his father was born in Australia, not Ireland as had been suggested.

If this is how bad the major parties were in checking eligibility, what about the minor parties? Who knows how rigorous the checking was for them and independents? Well, we can guess. Not very rigorous at all. Jacqui Lambie might be a goner. Although very unlikely, it is possible even Pauline Hanson might be caught out. 

The Government will try to use its numbers – with, amazingly, Greens’ support – to refer Labor politicians to the High Court. Labor will respond in kind.

Those under the spotlight are mainly white descendants of the British Empire.

As Phil Coorey said in the Australian Financial Review:

This disaster, so far at least, has been inflicted by politicians almost exclusively of Anglo-Celtic stock...

Barnaby Joyce's father was a Kiwi, Fiona Nash's dad was Scottish, Malcolm Roberts' father was Welsh, Larissa Waters was born in Canada and Scott Ludlam was born and raised in New Zealand.

None thought they had a problem because they just felt or believed they were Australian.

I await the Clerk of the House of Representatives reprising Monty Python and going around the chamber with his cart, yelling, "Bring out your dead".  

People with "foreign" names or faces like Sam Dastyari or Ian Goodenough knew they would be scrutinised so did all they could to renounce their "other" citizenship. People from "good" British stock did not.  

Why should they check? After all, they are obviously Australian. They share the same characteristics as the majority — white, from British stock and English speakers. 

The end result of Alexander’s resignation is that the Turnbull Government does not have an absolute majority in Parliament. It will, however, survive any no-confidence motion with the support of Cathy McGowan. It is also likely Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie – with her own eligibility in question – will support the Government.

In any event, Labor has said they would not take advantage of the short-term loss of an absolute majority and will not move or vote for a no-confidence motion. However, a Labor Party bill for a Royal Commission into Banking might pass, as might a reversal of Sunday penalty rate cuts.

It would be a mistake to view all this s44 fiasco as just a political crisis born of a xenophobic provision in the Constitution which is now catching the very Britishers it was designed to protect. After all, s44 hasn’t produced 23 losing Newspolls in a row for the Government. The latest has Labor leading 55 per cent to 45 per cent, two-party preferred.

All the s44 fiasco has done is highlight the incompetence of Turnbull and Co, their born to rule attitude, and their lack of policy and action — other than to attack or try to attack workers, the poor, Indigenous Australians, refugees, the sick, school kids, hospitals, universities ... on and on the list goes. 

This is a crisis of neoliberalism. The ruling elite is demanding further transfers of wealth from labour to capital to help restore falling profit rates in Australia.

The "bash ‘em up crew" of Abbott and Hockey fell at the first hurdle — their rotten 2014 Budget. The new shit sandwich seller of neoliberalism, the fake smile on legs, Malcolm Turnbull, has not been able to sweet talk us into happily accepting the reality of falling wages and declining services. No amount of terrorism alerts or brutalising refugees has distracted us from our worsening economic position.

The ALP is more subtle in its neoliberalism, using the cloak of caring and sharing to oversee fundamental shifts in wealth and income from labour to capital.

It is what the Accord over the period from 1983 onwards was all about when the trade union leadership embraced class collaboration. No wonder Shorten in government wants to have "a grand bargain" with bosses and unions about wage rises, rather than a class struggle to win real wage increases.

The Turnbull Government is teetering. How can we push it over the edge? The "Bring Them Here" pro-Manus refugee protests give a small indication of what could be done. Imagine if a pro-refugee party like the Greens called on Australians to make Australia ungovernable until the refugees in the concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru were brought here? Imagine if they called mass demonstrations and occupations to achieve this.

But Labor won’t lift a finger to protect refugees and the Greens won’t mobilise tens of thousands of people to defend them.

The ACTU has come out in support of refugees on Manus Island. Their words are welcome but the working class – the one class with the social power to defend refugees – is largely inactive industrially. Strikes are at historic lows and I don't think workers are going to strike to protect asylum seekers.

On the other hand, with real wages falling, and after years of shifting the share of national income from labour to capital, and the consequent explosion in poverty and inequality more generally, workers are angry about their declining economic position. Strikes by union members to win better pay and conditions could inspire others and effect change.

Couple those economic demands with political demands for the fall of the Turnbull Government, and we have the best way forward for getting rid of this current bunch of neoliberal no-hopers and forcing Labor to adopt more radical and progressive policies.

Over to you, all those fighting for a better world. Where you lead, ACTU Secretary Sally McManus can and must follow. Let’s get rid of this rotten Turnbull Government now!

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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