Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee; Reference
(1) That the Senate notes that there have now been five current and former senators referred to the Court of Disputed Returns to determine their eligibility under section 44 of the Constitution.
(2) The Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee inquire into and report by 14 September 2017 on the following matters:
(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.
(3) 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.
(4) The independent auditor or auditors will be able to request to the committee to use its powers to order the production of documents from senators and order them to appear as witnesses and answer questions.
(5) On behalf of the committee, the independent auditor or auditors may present to representatives of foreign governments in Australia and seek information.
The government's position on this issue has not changed. We oppose the motion. The calling into question of 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 senators' position until he or she is able to provide conclusive proof of their citizenship status. That would constitute a wrong-headed reversal of the onus of proof, especially given the undoubted public interest in certainty as to the composition of the parliament. Further, another referral would only add to the existing workloads of Senate committees and, in particular, the committee secretariats.
Senator McGrath is absolutely correct. The calling into question of a member of parliament's eligibility to stand is a very serious issue. Perhaps someone should have told Tony Abbott that yesterday when he stood up with proof of his own citizenship and called on the Leader of the Opposition to demonstrate that he, in fact, was not a dual citizen. Senator McGrath's comment that we need to think very carefully before we call into question the eligibility of members of parliament is something we should take seriously. It's a shame that members of the coalition don't follow their own advice. The reality here is that we have put this motion up time and time again because we will be here again and again with further referrals to the High Court because we have not conducted a full and comprehensive audit of everybody's eligibility to stand in this parliament. The crossbench support it. It is time that Liberal and Labor do too.