Australia’s parliament is in the grip of the world’s most ridiculous constitutional crisis. The situation threatens the country’s democratic process, which is reason enough for politicians and courts to work to unpick it. More importantly, though, it raises questions the rest of the world would do well to ponder. Over the past month, five members of Australia’s 226-member parliament have admitted that they may have unwittingly held dual citizenship — a condition that, under Australia’s 1900 constitution, disqualifies them from political office in Canberra. The latest blow on Monday ensnared Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, putting into jeopardy the government’s one-seat majority in the governing House of Representatives. Joyce’s father was born in New Zealand in 1924. As a result, Kiwis officially consider him one of their own.
Journalists and political staffers have launched a hunt to see who will fall next. The country’s justice minister Michael Keenan took to social media Thursday to confirm he renounced his British citizenship 13 years ago, after the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he may have been a dual citizen. In total, 13 senators and 11 House members were born overseas, equivalent to about 17 percent and 7.3 percent of the respective chambers. More may be caught, like Joyce, as a result of their parentage. With both chambers finely-balanced between parties — and renouncing foreign citizenship, in many cases, a long and complex process — the crisis could hamstring the government’s ability to pass legislation.
Australia has one of highest proportions of foreign-born residents among democratic countries. Nearly half of permanent residents are first- or second-generation migrants, with about 28 percent born overseas and 21 percent having at least one foreign-born parent. About 4.6 percent were, like me, born in the U.K.; another 2.6 percent in China, Hong Kong and Macau, plus 2.2 percent from New Zealand and 1.9 percent from India. More than 27 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home.