Recently my son asked if he could get hold of a copy of the Australian Constitution. Such a thing had never occurred to me before. I’ve never sighted that document and so, pursuant with my son’s request, I went online to find out how to get a copy.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the Australian Constitution is available as an app which I have now downloaded into my phone. I strongly urge all Australians to do the same. I think that you will all be equally appalled at how turgid and out of date this document is as our foundation statement.
It’s little more than a set of rules around the formation and running of Federal Government and some other matters. Appeals in the preamble to the will of God and to the subservience to the Queen (and we’re talking about Queen Victoria here) do not serve a modern, secular, multicultural Australia.
The Australian Constitution is pure legalese, a boring document with no aspirational proclamations as to who we are as Australians and what values we hold. There is no inspirational statement as in other constitutions and key issues, such as the separation of church, and state are ambiguous at best.
Unlike Americans, who can often recite at least the first few causes of their Constitution from memory, the Australian Constitution remains far from the hearts and thinking of the Australian people. And that’s hardly surprising; the American Constitution is every bit as inspirational as the Australian version isn’t.
Comparing the preambles of these two documents underlines my point. The American Constitution starts:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Whereas the Australian Constitution begins with:
“WHEREAS the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:”
On many counts, when it was written, it failed to anticipate many issues and phenomena that have arisen open last 106 years. The Australian Constitution is not a document written for the effective governance of modern Australia.
When there are calls to revise our constitution, such as the current discussions around Clause 44(i), I would proffer that it’s not a case of amending this Constitution, it’s probably grounds to reject the whole thing and start again.
So let’s take a closer look at Clause 44(i):
“Any person who; (i) is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”
I will argue the case for citizens with dual or even multiple nationalities. I think that, in a multicultural nation such as Australia, citizens with dual or multiple nationalities make an added and valuable contribution to the national endeavour – and this is particularly so in the areas of science and research. Finally, with the value of our multiple-national citizens recognised, I will argue that it is unfair, unreasonable and to the detriment of Australia if we require anyone to renounce their citizenship of another country just so they can serve in the Federal Government.
Many of our scientists, myself included, are dual nationals. I was born in England, am a naturalised Australian citizen and I am still entitled to both British and Australian citizenship. Although I consider myself to be an Australian citizen in every way, shape and form, I strongly reject the proposition that I should have to reject my British citizenship under any circumstance.
How has dual citizenship assisted me as a scientist? I hold two passports and that gives me greater freedom of travel in order to be able to go around the world to conduct my investigations. Sometimes it’s easier to use my British passport to get into a country and stay long enough to make sense of their crocodile fossils.
In the past, when I needed to reside in Great Britain (and, until recently, reside anywhere within the EU!) for a period of time to continue my studies, there were no visas required or any other restrictions on my movements.
There are some grants available to me as a citizen of Great Britain that are not available to Australian citizens. With funding as tight as it is for postgraduates, postdoctoral and early career researchers, these extra pots of money can help them get around the world to further their studies.
And it’s not just scientists and researchers who are able to use dual nationalities to the advantage of their careers. Dual citizens in commerce, business, the arts, sports and the whole slew of human activities are able to use their multi-national status for both their own benefit and for the betterment of Australia.
Why should I give up my British citizenship anyway? I cannot change the fact that I was born in England and I do not wish to renounce that part of me that will always be British.
I consider myself an Australian citizen. I live in Australia. I pay taxes here. I’m eligible and willing to serve the Australian military. I share the collective national guilt and shame of institutional human rights abuses of our indigenous brothers and sisters and of refugees. What more can I do to demonstrate my allegiance as a citizen of this country?
A tongue-in-cheek argument that I have used several times on drunken nights is that, by choosing to become an Australian Citizen, I am more Australian than the default Aussies who were simply born here! I have had to make a choice, I’ve had to think about what it is to be an Australian and I have made that commitment with a sound mind and strong heart. So many default Aussies never seem to have given any thought to their citizenship other than barracking for their nation’s sports teams at international events. You guys need us dual citizens to bring some considered depth to the question of what it really means to be an Australian!
With so many multicultural citizens of Australia holding dual nationalities, surely Clause 44(i) is a token artefact from the Victorian British Empire that needs to go. It’s an archaic proposition suited to the days of the White Australia Policy.
Now, more than ever, we need more people with a background in science and other diverse disciplines serving in Federal politics. We certainly need less lawyers, accountants, economists and professional politicians in the positions of power that attempt to run the country. Dual citizenship should not be a barrier to anyone’s desire to enter Federal politics. Doubly so for Australian citizens who have a science background. They are needed in Federal politics and there should be no artificial barriers to exclude them.