Mike Williams: Gerry, ugh, stop the kowtowing
Along with the UK and Israel, New Zealand is one of the few countries that doesn't have a formal constitution. Though the former PM Sir Geoffrey Palmer tried to sell us on the idea some years ago we didn't bite, and recent events have demonstrated how lucky we are to have avoided that fate.
Constitutions are documents defining fundamental principles that are interpreted by Judges and are made intentionally difficult to alter.
The constitution which set up the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 is just such a document and it's come back to bite the Australian Government this week and involve our Labour Party.
Section 44 of the Australian Constitution reads:
"Any person who -
(i.) Is under any acknowledgement 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 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".
In simple terms this says that if you are a citizen of a country other than Australia, you can't be any kind of MP.
Back in 1901 the intention was to exclude anyone who may owe loyalty to a "foreign potentate".
With mass migration and easy international travel, times have changed greatly since those words were written. But because this piece of paranoiac nonsense is embedded in Australia's constitution, it can only be changed by a referendum which gains a majority of votes in a majority of the states.
It means that through their citizenship laws other countries can influence who is permitted to be an Australian MP.
Just how daft this situation now is was demonstrated by a wit who wrote on a blog "What happens if all of a sudden North Korea decide d to pass a law that said every person elected to the Federal Parliament of Australia is actually a citizen of North Korea?"
In 2003 New Zealand had the same problem when New Plymouth-born Harry Duynhoven MP received Dutch citizenship on the basis of his father's birthplace.
Harry inadvertently broke a law similar to article 44 above, but our Government quickly repealed the offending law.
Thus the problem was solved and we had a clear demonstration of why having no constitution can be useful.
Australian Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce became the fifth parliamentarian to get caught by clause 44 when he discovered his Kiwi dad made him (by descent) a New Zealand citizen.
Joyce's problem is a potential disaster for the beleaguered and unpopular Turnbull Government.
The previous four MPs caught by the clause are all senators who (like our list MPs) are replaced by the next person in line, but Joyce is in the key House of Representat ives where Turnbull's Government has a majority of just one.
If Joyce is forced out by a literal interpretation of clause 44 by the Court, the Government won't have a majority and will face a byelection in an electorate where a local independent came close to victory in the 2106 federal election.
This A-grade fiasco directly involved us last week when a New Zealand Labour MP asked a question in Parliament about how our citizenship law works after talking with a mate in South Australia.
Despite Minister Peter Dunne confirming that the Australian media were asking about this first, we were subjected to a bullying and baseless attack by an Australian minister which, astonishingly, was supported by NZ Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee.
Brownlee was looking to score political points in a bad week for the National Party, but he ran the risk of annoying Kiwis who don't like kowtowing to Australia and locking in the nickname "Brown-nose" ; he copped by grovelling to Israel.
Brownlee is one of a small coterie of National Party grandees who receive overnight polling reports from Curia, so his counter-productive behaviour in this incident can be explained by panic at the rapidly closing gap between the two big parties that was later revealed in the TV1 Colmar-Brunton poll.
Described by a press gallery observer as "agitated and at times breathless", Brownlee is not the man to spearhead National's resistance to the Labour Party's rapid resurgence.
The incident allowed Labour leader Jacinda Ardern to act quickly and decisively, disciplining her MP and dealing firmly with the idiotic accusation and pointedly not offering an apology. She faced her first crisis and handled it well.
If Australia's constitution is to be taken so literally then perhaps the preamble which says we are a state of Australia is the solution to Barnaby Joyce's dilemma.
Here's the direct quote:
The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia . . .
* Mike Williams grew up in Hawke's Bay. He is CEO of the NZ Howard League and a former Labour Party president. All opinions are his and not those of Hawke's Bay Today.Source: Google News