Dual citizenship swear words: Oaths of allegiance out of touch

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Unsurprisingly, Tony Abbott chose to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen when sworn in as Prime Minister in 2013 (Image screenshot via YouTube)

How can we keep chucking out MPs with dual citizenship when our head of state isn’t even a citizen at all, writes history editor Dr Glenn Davies.

So, let me get this straight...

Federal MP has dual citizenship with Britain? Disqualified. Head of State is 100% British? No problem! How can we keep chucking out MPs with dual citizenship when our head of state isn’t even a citizen at all.

On Monday 13 November 2017, the constitutional storm over the dual citizenship debacle blew in replacement Senators for those who had been declared ineligible by the High Court to hold political office in Australia’s Federal Parliament as they contravened s44 of the Australian Constitution. Some of the senators were declared ineligible due to having British citizenship by descent. But how will the replacement senators reconcile the absurdity that to become a member of the Federal Parliament they must swear an Oath of Allegiance to the British monarch.

As at 10 November 2017 there were 12 Senators and federal MPs who were under constitutional question. Currently there will be at least two by-elections held due to federal MPs acknowledging they hold dual citizenship. There may well yet be more by-elections unless a general election is held. Yet when the by-election results are finally tallied, or a double dissolution election is held and the next federal parliament is elected, these same MPs and senators will be required to swear allegiance to the Head of State of the country of which their colleagues are citizens and as a result had been declared ineligible to be elected to the federal parliament.

Say what?

Surely this is the elephant in the room. How is it possible for the High Court to disqualify members of parliament on the basis of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, as being (unknowingly) citizens and therefore subjects of a foreign power, when these same MPs and ministers swear allegiance to the monarch of this same foreign power (and her descendants), who happens to be our Head of State?

There can be no doubt that the "Queen of Australia" is a British woman, yet we, here in the Antipodes, are quibbling about people we have elected to our Federal Parliament whose dad or mum was of British ancestry. 

It’s worth remembering that, on 3 December 2007, one week after the election of the new Rudd Federal Labor Government, a "very republican moment" occurred when Kevin Rudd and his ministry swore an oath to

"...the Commonwealth of Australia, its land and its people."

The significance of this moment was the new Federal ministers swore an Oath under Section 62 of the Australian Constitution to the people of Australia rather to Queen Elizabeth II, a foreign monarch.

When Kevin Rudd was sworn in as the 26th Prime Minister of Australia, wearing R.M. Williams boots and a grin as wide as the verandah of his suburban Brisbane Queenslander, he declared:

I, Kevin Michael Rudd, do swear that I will well and truly serve the Commonwealth of Australia, her land and her people, in the office of the Prime Minister, so help me God.”

Taking the office of Prime Minister (Executive Councillor) involves swearing an Oath of Allegiance or Affirmation. However, under Section 62 of the Constitution, the form of the Oath of Office is not prescribed for a minister, but by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister.

Of course, the new Oath was given to the Governor-General on Rudd’s advice, yet he could not have technically given that advice until he became an Executive Councillor. No doubt, this advice was relayed earlier, perhaps through or with the approval of the caretaker, John Howard. In taking this Oath, Rudd acknowledged the republican ideal that ultimate political authority lays with ‘the land and the people’ of Australia rather than with the British monarch.

The Rudd Oath should not be confused with the Oath of Allegiance or Affirmation under Section 42 of the Constitution required to be made by a Member of Parliament or Senator before taking his or her seat.

Section 42 involves swearing or affirming to

'...be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her heirs and successors according to law.'

This Oath was also used for ministers until the Keating Labor government removed reference to the Sovereign. However, with the election of the Howard Liberal government in 1996, the Oath to the Queen was restored but without any reference to 'Her heirs and successors'.

The real issue behind the question of the Oath of Allegiance or Affirmation concerns where political authority ultimately resides. Should Australian political authority continue to be derived from the British monarch and, ultimately, God — or should it be acknowledged that popular sovereignty resides in "the land and the people" of Australia? This is a fundamental question for the republican debate.

The historical position of the Divine Right of Kings was that the power of the monarch was derived from God.

Indeed, Romans 13:1 states:

'...there is no authority except God which God has established.'

Queen Elizabeth II had to first attend a three hour Coronation ceremony to almighty God, which in turn gave every citizen in her realm immediate sovereign protection. But how does a divinely ordered constitutional monarchy fit into a modern multicultural society?

In recent years, there has even been discussion in Britain about changing the Coronation Oaths. This begs the question: What relevance do Coronation Oaths have to Australia when they can themselves be changed? But even though the current British monarch swears a Coronation Oath and is anointed in the same way as the Kings of the Old Testament, the Coronation Oath is essentially a human construct. It has a historical basis rather than a biblical basis.

The Bible is not really interested in the system of government under which God's people live, it is more interested in the compassionate nature and morality of government. The Old and New Testament show God's people living under a variety of different systems of governments, from the theocracy of Moses to the Roman rule of the New Testament. But even if ultimate authority does come from God, it doesn't necessarily flow through the forms and symbols of the state. The evangelical Christian tradition says authority flows through God's direct relationships to individuals.

In 2007, Kevin Rudd, Christian and republican, asked for God's help, not authority, to serve as Prime Minister of Australia. Republicanism does not acknowledge God as the ultimate source of authority in our society, rather it is ‘the land and the people’.

In 1887, Henry Lawson wrote in his Song of the Republic’:

Sons of the South, make choice between
the land of the morn and the land of the e’en,
the old dead tree and the young tree green,
the land that belongs to the lord and the Queen,
and the land that belongs to you.

It was during the 1963 Royal Tour that Prime Minister Robert Menzies, who was "British to his bootstraps", said of the young Queen Elizabeth II:

"I did but see her passing by, and yet I'll love her 'til I die."

The tide appears to be turning towards a republican future, a future grounded more in a love of country, perhaps even in Dorothea Mackellar's My Country, where she wrote

'I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains.'

One of the essential definitions of a republic is a state based upon popular sovereignty, in which all public offices are held by persons deriving their authority from the people, either through election by the people, or appointment by officers themselves elected by the people. The exclusion of the reference to the Queen in the Federal ministerial Oath is a tangible step towards repositioning political authority for a republican Australia. Symbols are important and the words in this Oath reflect more meaningfully the reality that our Ministers serve the people of Australia and not a foreign monarch.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard continued with the Keating/Rudd Oath with swearing allegiance to Australia. However, on Wednesday, 18 September 2013, the newly minted Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott returned to the past by swearing allegiance to the Queen.

Responding to this, the then national director of the Australian Republic Movement, David Morris, said in a statement:

'Our elected representatives should swear allegiance solely to Australia, rather than loyalty to someone born to rule over an Empire long gone. We call upon all elected representatives to pledge 100 per cent loyalty to Australia.'

It is interesting that the Federal minister's Oath has been a republican intellectual battleground over the past 25 years. Australia's three most recent Labor prime ministers – Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – all used similar words when they were sworn in. But Tony Abbott, an avowed monarchist, reverted to the previous pledge to Queen Elizabeth II, as did John Howard, and as did also Malcolm Turnbull.

Australians need a head of state of our own — someone who can lead the dignified part of our national life away from the day to day screaming match of Parliament and Q&A. Australia shouldn’t be looking backwards to Britain and the monarchy rather we should be confidently facing the future. It’s no longer appropriate in today’s Australia to have divided loyalties. Back in the early 20th Century, Australians were still called “British subjects” and many still sang 'God Save the Queen' — but no more. Today, our loyalty and our identity is Australian, not colonial. Australia should always come first for our elected representatives.

In an oath that has barely changed since Australia federated, anyone enlisting in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) today – Army, Air Force or Navy – must swear that they

'... will well and truly serve Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Her Heirs and Successors according to law ... and resist Her enemies.'

Say what? Is there a single member of the 80,000-strong ADF that signed up to serve the Queen and resist her enemies? What about Australia's enemies? Surely they deserve a mention as well?

In 1994, a different pledge was introduced at Australian citizenship ceremonies.

It replaced the pledge of allegiance to the Queen with

'I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect and whose laws I will uphold and obey.'

In 2014, polling undertaken by the Australian Republic Movement found that seven out of ten Australians supported pledging allegiance to Australia and its people, rather than to the Queen.

The "currency lads" of the mid-19th century would often use the toast "To the land, boys". Prime Minister Kevin Rudd appeared to have taken Henry Lawson's advice and chosen "the land that belongs to you" over "the land that belongs to the lord and Queen".

Our nation’s values are democratic. To have an institution sitting above our Parliament, over which a foreign family is born to rule, is out of date with our identity as an independent nation. It’s about time our oaths of allegiance were changed to reflect this.

History editor Dr Glenn Davies is an Australian Republican Movement Queensland branch councillor and former convenor. You can follow Dr Davies on Twitter @DrGlennDavies.

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