Transcript - ABC Radio Newcastle - Wednesday 8 November 2017

SUBJECTS: Dual Citizenship issues.


HOST: Labor MP, Federal Member for the Hunter joins me on the line now. Joel Fitzgibbon, good morning.


HOST: I guess just a general question, what are you thinking at the moment with the way this has been playing out over the last couple of months?

FITZGIBBON: The important point you just made is that we have a Government that isn’t governing. It has been all consuming and it needs to be fixed and fixed as quickly as possible. Whatever proposition Malcolm Turnbull wants to put forward, it must be one which ensures all MPs, as soon as possible, are complying with the Constitution. As one of your listeners said,  it is one of our foundation legal documents, so it has been really badly handled. The whole thing is unfortunate in a sense but it is very easy to comply with any MP who has any doubt or any suspicion they might not comply with section 44, they only need write to the country involved. Indeed the representation here in Australia involved, the embassy or high commission and say by writing, look if there is any doubt that I have citizenship with your country, I now renounce it. It is so simple and Barnaby Joyce and others could have done that a long time ago and we wouldn’t be facing these problems. Politicians have been acutely aware of Section 44 for many years, as recently as 1996, the year elected MP Jackie Kelly was knocked out of the Parliament under Section 44. For a long time now there has been a campaign on social media going after Tony Abbott suggesting he held dual citizenship. He has now proven he doesn’t, but we have all been aware of that campaign for a long time, so why an MP or Senator would sit back and ignore the possibility they are a dual citizen and knowing one of their parents could hold dual citizenship is simply beyond me.

HOST: Do you think it reflecting badly on politicians generally? This lack of transparency this lack of coming out into the open and saying, look this is the situation and keeping it under wraps for so long?

FITZGIBBON: Of course it does. It does reflect on each and every one of us. Of late, we are already down there with, I was going to say used car salesman, but I don’t want to offend anyone. But this doesn’t help at all and people are looking very sneaky. This latest proposal from the Prime Minister, now Bill Shorten will no doubt today be as flexible as he can be. He wants to fix this too.

HOST: There must be concerns within the Labor Party as well surely?

FITZGIBBON: Well we have been smart enough to have in place for a long, long time a very robust process at preselection level. So when I applied to be Labor’s candidate in the Hunter, I am asked on my form amongst other things whether my parents or grandparents were born overseas. If I say yes to any of those questions then that triggers a whole new process. Lawyers go through my application and make sure I don’t breach Section 44. That’s why we have come though, at least at this stage, unscathed. I can’t say the system is perfect, but so far so good.

HOST: Because I think what the electorate is thinking is, okay if Labor was clean then Bill Shorten would be silly not to be going in hard on this. Because if the point is pushed and the Coalition lose any more MPs, then basically you have balance of power.

FITZGIBBON: I know in the age of cynicism people will find this hard to believe -

HOST: Yes, try us.

FITZGIBBON: We don’t really want to play politics with this issue. It has just been causing too much difficulty for the wheels of democracy and Bill Shorten will want to fix this sitting down with Malcom Turnbull. What we won’t allow him to do is push it off into the never-never so people like John Alexander can just pretend it’s not happening right until March next year. Remember this proposal Malcolm is putting forward can’t be put in place before Christmas because we only sit for two more weeks and the last week is the first week of December, so this proposal cannot come into effect until next year. Our very strong suspicion is Malcolm wants to continue to run interference on this thing and that is what he has been doing.

HOST: That sounds like you are playing politics now.

FITZGIBBON: No, we are saying fix it today. We are up for it and that is basically what we are saying.

HOST: So that is the line in the sand as far as the Labor Party is concerned.

FITZGIBBON: I think that is the key point.

HOST: Can you see this conversation going well between Bill Shorten and Malcolm Turnbull today? What do you think is going to come of it? What are your thoughts?

FITZGIBBON: I know that Bill Shorten will be as accommodating as he can be, but have a think about this. John Alexander today still doesn’t know. He says, he is a dual citizen and Malcolm’s proposal is that he is going to make declaration to the Parliament and on his own submission he doesn’t know.

HOST: But are you licking your lips at the thought of more Coalition MPs falling by the way side and the numbers completely changing around?

FITZGIBBON: Given how dysfunctional and chaotic this Government is, and given it has affectively stopped governing I think it is in the interest of the Australian community for this government to be moved on quite frankly. It really is hopeless.

HOST: Could Bill Shorten have come out harder on this? Could he have not had this conversation with the Australian people and really forced the issue. There is no reason why this can’t be fixed now.

FITZGIBBON: I know what question you’d be asking me if he had done that. You would be asking me again if he was playing politics with the situation. We take the foundation document of our country very seriously and of course we take people’s compliance with it just as seriously. We don’t want to play politics with it we just want people to comply. It was very easy to comply and still is easy to comply. I agree with most of your correspondence this morning. The principle Section 44 hasn’t changed. I can use the example of the Second World War myself. If we were in 1938, 1939 people who think this is all silly would have different view. I think what the founding fathers declared still holds today. That is not true of every provision in the Constitution but I think it is true of Section 44. It  says if you want to be a normal citizen and have dual citizenship, that’s fine. But if you want to stand in Government, where big decisions are made, you need to have an allegiance to one country only and in the current environment it doesn’t seem very important but in a different environment it will.

HOST: Okay, one last question. Would you prefer to see, whether it is you or not, the major party that has the majority of votes and the majority of members voted in that they rule clearly and this is sorted?

FITZGIBBON: As I always say to the school children when they visit Parliament House is the Government isn’t the party with the most people in the House of Representatives, it’s the party which can command the most number of votes on any given day and we now entering a period, as we experienced in the early 1900s, where it is possible for the Government of the day to change any day. You don’t need an election to change the Government in Australia. Not with the Westminster Model, Now I’m not predicting that will happen, but if the Government loses more members and it doesn’t go to the Governor General and declare it’s incapacity to hold the confidence of the House of Representatives, then of course the Labor Party will step up.

HOST: Alright, I appreciate your time this morning. Thanks for talking to us.

FITZGIBBON: A great pleasure.


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