Shorten should set a good example and release citizenship documents

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'Labor is not entitled to decide it will not table citizenship documents in response to requests from the media, because in this case, the media is representing the people,' says Duncan Beggs (Image screenshot abc.net.au)

Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done, says Duncan Beggs in an open letter, which is why Bill Shorten should release the proof he renounced his British citizenship.

Dear Bill Shorten,

You will not be alone if you ignore what I write about section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution in this letter. You may even be shielded from it. Because, many of your colleagues in Federal Parliament, from all parties, have simply ignored, or chosen not to respond to, or acknowledge citizens, including me, who have approached Parliamentarians with s44(i) issues.

I am really disappointed by the Labor Party’s decision to not release its member’s citizenship documents, here. By saying on ABC Q&A last Monday night, “I know I renounced by British citizenship…” and then refusing to release documents confirming that, you give the impression that I must be satisfied with what you say — that must be sufficient for me.

You are grinding your meat in the wrong machine here. For you, it seems to me, s44(i) has become just a small part of the contest between Labor and Liberal and convinced that you have the superior vetting (of candidates) processes, you consider yourself to be untouchable on s44(i).

Labor is not entitled to decide it will not table citizenship documents in response to requests from the media, because in this case, the media is representing the people. You may believe you a goading your opponents, giving Labor an opportunity to show it has a better candidate selection procedures than the other parties, by making the claims you did on Monday night.

Time will show if this is the case.

But, this is vintage Tony Abbott stuff. It really is and I am disappointed to hear it.

Elsewhere in Monday’s Q&A programme, you came close to my concern when you said a plebiscite is not required to deal with the same sex marriage issue; a plebiscite is held only to change the Constitution.

Correct. Same sex marriage is not a Constitution issue and only a plebiscite (in fact, a referendum) can change the Constitution.

The people, or citizens of Australia, amend the Constitution, as provided for in the Constitution itself. It is the supreme legislation in Australia. Taking up a position that disrespects the people’s rights, which are enshrined in the Constitution, cannot stand — as is happening in regards to s44(i) at the moment.

I would ask you (and Labor) to reflect on what you have done. (Deliberately channelling George Brandis here.) And, what you are doing. I also ask you to respect and trust us, the electors, take us into your confidence and do not shut us out. More importantly, don’t lose contact with us.

The Australian Constitution is your contract with the Australian people who elect you to Parliament. You signed up for that.

Section 44(i) gives we, the people, the right to demand that you – and each elected member – meet the requirements of s44(i). I accept you sincerely believe that you do comply. But, it is not your place to deny my request for proof of that.

Neither you, nor any other member of Parliament, can change the Constitution. No lawyer can change the criteria stated in s44(i) of the Constitution, no court in this land can alter it, nor can any political party or Government of this land amend it. No candidate or elected member can decide they are exempt from s44(i). Nor can any of the foregoing chose to ignore the requirement of s44(i). No person can simply deny Sec 44(i), no matter what they think about it.

OK, it is difficult for me to bring a case asking the High Court to direct that all members of Parliament submit documents confirming they qualify, yes, qualify to sit in Parliament. That does not mean you are correct in refusing to make your citizenship papers public. If I had enough funds I would gladly engage the best legal advice available to mount such a case to the High Court. Scott Ludlam has provided a suitable contact, I expect.

Investing private funds in reminding Parliamentarians of their covenant with the people would provide a great deal of satisfaction. It would also deliver significant benefit to Australia if Federal politicians were moved permanently outside the club they become members of immediately they take their seat in Parliament.

You could spare me this expenditure of cash and energy by having Labor change its mind and table citizenship documents for all Labor parliamentarians. You and Sam Dastyari say you have these documents, so it is not a major task.

On Monday night, on Q&A you even appeared to be seeking the moral high ground over your opponents by claiming it was not Labor that was pursuing this issue in the Parliament. Your opponents had done this to themselves, you suggested. You should be pursuing this issue. It is a matter of the highest law in this land, s44(i) and you and all Parliamentarians must uphold it.

Refusing my request, even if it comes to you via the media (on my behalf) is the greatest disrespect. It is not often that citizens seek to remind you of who grants politicians the power they assume when they sit down together in Parliament.  Section 44(i) is perhaps the only real vehicle we have to do that.

Everyone who stands for Parliament, in modern times, signs a statutory declaration they qualify. Every person who signs that declaration probably genuinely believes they qualify when they sign this declaration. But in at least seven instances in this Parliament, that declaration is found to have been false, or questionable. The current system is broken.

There will be more instances of members who are non-compliant.

An immediate audit of every parliamentarian and the tabling of qualifications on nomination at future elections is the only acceptable course of action from this point.

There is no avoiding this.  Section 44(i) is clear and self-contained, no matter what subordinate legislation or regulation might have been introduced by Parliament. Section 44(i) never sleeps — It stands and means what it says, always.

To avoid it is to break the law; whether knowingly or unknowingly.  I ask that all Parliamentarians comply with the law, and that they be seen to be doing so.  Please table citizenship documents that prove you are compliant with Sec 44 (i), and have every other member do likewise.

The Governor General says, on his webpage, that he is responsible for maintaining and executing the Constitution, but this is one instance where he may be in neglect of his duties, under the Constitution:

Additionally and importantly, Section 61 of the Constitution provides that

'The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth.'

Parliament can and has introduced procedures whereby it can bring a case before the High Court in regards to the Electoral Act, but I fail to see how Parliament can rightly block, weaken, or prevent the application of s44(i) in any way; no matter what decisions Parliament has made in the past. I also fail to see why a citizen cannot demand that any member of Parliament produce citizenship documents to prove compliance with s44(i) and, on failure to have the documents produced, be free to launch a case in the High Court. I doubt that the Constitution intended that a citizen be denied this authority, or right, as Parliamentarians seem to be seeking to do at the moment.

It is immaterial to me what you, or Parliament think about s44(i). I don’t mind if you think it should be changed, or removed. I may even agree with that. But neither you, nor any group of politicians can simply choose to ignore s44(i) while it lives on in the Constitution.

Should I seek leave to submit this argument to the High Court, do you think? I should not need to do that.

To change the effect of s44(i) requires a referendum and that will take too long.

Please stop filtering this through the mindset created by the daily political contest with your opponents. The mindset clearly driving your thinking and comments on Monday night.

Section 44(i) is between you and me, and the respect you have for me and my fellow citizens, having put you in Parliament. It’s at the core of our democracy. Acting in your interests here will trample – brutally trample – on that democracy. 

I ask that you bring this letter to the attention of your fellow parliamentarians, on both sides of the divide and, in an act of respect for the community, have all members of Parliament table citizenship papers for scrutiny, perhaps by the Governor General as the guardian and administrator of the Constitution on behalf of Australian Citizens, and then stand down any member of Parliament not found to be qualified, until his position is determined and a replacement found, as allowed under the Constitution.

I will not mind if I should find myself alone in asking all members of Parliament to be audited against s44(i), for then the beauty of the rule of law will begin to shine through. The law does not need a majority for it to be applied — the law just demands that it be seen to be done. And, I am asking no more than that every member of Parliament demonstrate or prove, publically, that they comply with s44(i). The law.

I would like a reply, as a citizen of Australia and as an elector. But such is the state of politics in this country at the moment and our previous experience of it, that I hold a very low level of expectation that I will receive a reply on s44(i).

What a sad and worrying thing to say about my country.

Thank you for reading my letter.

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