Wednesday, 9 August 2017
Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Reference
I, and also on behalf of Senators Hinch, Lambie and Xenophon, move:
(1) The following matters be referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for inquiry and report by 14 September 2017:
(a) the eligibility of senators in the 45th Parliament under section 44 of the Constitution, in so far as it relates to being 'a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power';
(b) the legal liability of senators who know, or have grounds to suspect, that they are ineligible for office but do not come forward with that information, and whether they are defrauding the Commonwealth; and
(c) any other related matters.
(2) For the purposes of carrying out the inquiry, the committee must, as soon as practicable, with the approval of the President, appoint an independent auditor, or auditors, with expertise in migration, citizenship and constitutional law to assist the committee.
(3) The independent auditor or auditors will be able to request the committee to use its powers to order the production of documents from senators and order them to appear as witnesses and answer questions.
(4) On behalf of the committee, the independent auditor or auditors may present to representatives of foreign governments in Australia and seek information.
The government opposes the motion. The calling into question a senator's eligibility to sit in this place is a very serious step and that step should only be taken in cases where there is a clear case to answer. The motion seeks to turn this long accepted principle on its head, effectively calling into question every senator's position until he or she is able to provide conclusive proof of his or her citizenship status. This would constitute a wrong-headed reversal of the onus of proof, especially given the undoubted public interest in certainty as to the composition of parliament. Further, another referral would only add to the existing workloads of Senate committees and the committee secretariats in particular.
It's not this motion or, indeed, the Greens that are calling into question the eligibility of senators; it is the community and the scrutiny that has been occurring in the media for several months now. Calling into question the eligibility of senators is something that ordinary punters out there are doing right now. It's no wonder they have no faith in the system. There's a very straightforward process: an independent auditor to ensure that people in this parliament are eligible to stand. Where there are question marks, they will be referred to the High Court.
At the moment, we are relying on our friends in the media to do the job that this Senate should be doing—transparency and accountability. What we have are question marks being raised over individuals when we could be doing it through a process endorsed by this Senate. That's why this is so critical. It's taken the Greens and the crossbench to shine a light where the major parties refuse it to be shone.
It is an honour to be a senator, and it's your job and right to make sure you are entitled to be elected to be one. As somebody said, 'If the human headline can check it out and fix it, it can't be that hard!' That should stand for everybody else in this place and the other place. It is your job. Being ignorant of it not being applicable, doesn't hold water. Senator Lambie is right when she says, 'Out there, general trust and respect for politicians in this place is very low.' If you won't have the guts to get up there and suddenly say: 'Yes, I'll show you. I'm an Australian. I was born here. I've denounced my other citizenship,' then I think it's shameful that you hide behind that. It's not much for Senator Di Natale and the other crossbenchers to say: 'Listen, get your house in order. Otherwise, if we don't, we are treated like a joke.'