Under your resolution of appointment, I refer the following matters to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters for inquiry and report:
Australians must be assured that all members of the Australian Parliament are constitutionally eligible to serve. Recent High Court decisions have resulted in a number of serving Members and Senators being disqualified.
Many of these cases have involved the application of section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution to a Member or Senator who is also a citizen of another country, often without their knowledge, and as a consequence of a foreign law conferring that foreign citizenship on them by reason of their ancestry.
Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world, and around a half of our citizens were either born overseas or have a parent born overseas. These Australians may be citizens of another country and, as we have seen with several Members and Senators, not be aware of it.
Other Senators, Members and candidates have been disqualified, or had their eligibility questioned, on the basis that they hold an "office of profit under the Crown" (section 44(iv)) or have a "direct or indirect pecuniary interest" in an "agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth" (section 44(v)). Many Australians who wish to serve in the Parliament may be at risk of disqualification under these provisions, and may be discouraged from participating in the electoral process.
Accordingly, the following matters are referred to the JSCEM:
A. How electoral laws and the administration thereof could be improved to minimise the risk of candidates being found ineligible pursuant to section 44(i) (this could involve, among other matters, a more comprehensive questionnaire prior to nominations, or assistance in swiftly renouncing foreign citizenship);
B. Whether the Parliament is able to legislate to make the operation of section 44(i) more certain and predictable (for example, by providing a standard procedure for renunciation of foreign citizenship, or by altering procedures for challenging a parliamentarian's qualifications in the Court of Disputed Returns);
C. Whether the Parliament should seek to amend section 44(i) (for example, to provide that an Australian citizen born in Australia is not disqualified by reason of a foreign citizenship by descent unless they have acknowledged, accepted or acquiesced in it);
D. Whether any action of the kind contemplated above should be taken in relation to any of the other paragraphs of section 44 of the Constitution, in particular sections 44(iv) and 44(v); and
E. Any related matters.
The Committee is requested to report to Parliament with respect to section 44(i) by 23 March 2018, and with respect to any other provisions of section 44 by 30 June 2018.