Home Roland Rocchiccioli Politicians have no-one to blame but themselves

Politicians have no-one to blame but themselves

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Unequivocally, when it comes to the current dilemma surrounding section 44 of the Australian Constitution, politicians have no-one to blame but themselves. The wording is clear: you cannot hold dual citizenship, however tenuous, or accidental, and sit in the Australian government.

One has to wonder: Is it too much to expect that those who are considering a life in politics will check to be certain there are no citizenship anomalies? I am not unsympathetic to the plight; indeed, what has come to pass is a nonsense. Clearly, Barnaby Joyce, and the other of his colleagues who find themselves in the same situation, should not be deemed ineligible; however, it does tell us something about the constitution: It is broken and out-of-date, and it is time it was fixed. In short, it has out-lived its useby date. Even the Prime Minister said this week the constitution was not meant to be read literally. Pity they do not say the same thing about the bible – but that’s another debate.

Marcus Strom wrote on the ABC news website: Like some latter day Christian reformer, Malcolm Turnbull is trying to squeeze living relevance out of a document that has had its day.

It’s a sad reflection on Australian society that it wasn’t until the constitution threatened the very comfortable livelihoods and privileges of MPs that the chattering classes started to say the constitution — well, that bit at least — was a bit of a joke. Really? Sections 25 and 51 allow for government to make laws explicitly on the basis of race — and no one in power seems to have given that much more than a shrug. The original inhabitants of the continent, who have never ceded sovereignty, don’t even rate a mention; and the country is carved up by (mostly) straight lines dreamed-up by 19th-century British imperialists.

Former prime minister Bob Hawke said: “I’m going to be true to myself and mention what I have on many occasions — that if we’re going to optimise the chance for democracy to be effective in this country, we’ve got to get rid of the constitution we’ve got.” And he is right!

The general public will see it as nothing but venal self-interest if the only tinkering done with an outdated document is to sandbag the careers of MPs. Of qualitatively higher-order priority is a treaty with Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders; a voice in parliament for Indigenous Australians; the establishment of a democratic republic; abolition of the states; recognition of local and regional government; and a bill of rights to secure citizens’ freedoms against bureaucracy, big business, and fickle government administration.

Constitutional scholar Professor George Williams explained it was vital there was a clear process to get constitutional change: “At present there is no consistency or strategic planning — just decisions based on ad hoc policy,” he said.”As a result, there has been no change in the constitution since 1977 — and no government has taken a proposal to referendum for 18-years.”

Professor Williams contents, that as Australia had a Law Reform Commission, now we need a Constitutional Commission to listen, educate and put proposals to the electorate. Such proposals should be put to a constitutional convention every ten years. It should become a regular feature of public life. The problem is, in the business of fabricating national identity, everyone is expected to pretend that constitutions are quasi-religious documents, handeddown from mountain tops by “founding fathers”, rather than what they really are — a mutually agreed political balance of power to guide the nation. The French have little such truck with religiosity when it comes to their constitution. They know it was written by human hand and can be reworked when needed. France is now governed under the fifth iteration of a constitution since its republican revolution, and in this year’s presidential election the leftwing candidate, Jean-Luc Melechon, claimed nearly 20-percent of the first-round vote with a promise to abolish the fifth and establish a sixth republic. The Australian Constitution was written in 18991900 by a group including Andrew Inglis Clark from Tasmania, Sir Edmond Barton (Australia’s First Prime Minister), and Alfred Deakin (Australia’s second Prime Minister).The Constitution had to be agreed by the British Parliament before the colonies could federate (unite as a nation). An Australian delegation travelled to London to present the Constitution, which was part of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Bill, to the British Parliament. After negotiating some changes, the British Parliament passed the bill in July 1900. Among these changes was the right to appeal decisions of the state Supreme Courts and the federal High Court in Britain’s Privy Council (final law court of appeal for Commonwealth countries).

Australia needs to face up to the fact that the constitution is broken and can’t be changed by tinkering at the margins. The only way forward would be new territory for us but is common in many other countries — the election of a constituent assembly that has full power to draft a new constitution to take to the people for endorsement.

Let the work begin!

Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30. Contact: rolandroc@bigpond.com