READ THE QUESTION: Paul Owens believes the dual citizenship question cost one man his health and ultimately his life and should have been settled 25 years ago.
READ THE QUESTION: Paul Owens believes the dual citizenship question cost one man his health and ultimately his life and should have been settled 25 years ago. Belinda Scott

Researcher questions timing of citizenship debate

WHY now? That is the question about the politicians' dual citizenship debate that Coffs Harbour researcher Paul Owens wants answered.

"It has been a sleeper for so long, why is it raising its head now?" Paul said

He says if all political candidates completed their nomination checklists correctly, there would have been no problem.

"Nobody likes them, but politicians should do their homework," her said.

Paul said the issue was raised publicly 30 years ago and before it went to the High Court in 1992, judges and courts had warned it was a serious contemporary political issue.

Section 44 (i) of the Australian Constitution says that: 'Any person who (i) is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or 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.'

The purpose of the section is to prevent foreign nationals from sitting in the national parliament and framing laws affecting defence and foreign affairs.

When the constitution was framed in the 1890s, France was an enemy nation. In 1914 Japan was a friend; in 1939 an enemy as allegiances shifted.

Part of the Constitution since Federation in 1900, forbidden dual citizenship for Federal politicians was discussed during constitutional conventions in the 1980s.

The late George Turner began campaigning to unseat dual-citizen Federal MPs in 1987, writing letters to those he believed had won their seats on false pretences of Australian-only citizenship

Paul Owens recalled being in the audience at a public meeting of at least 500 people in the Dorrigo Hall in 1990 when the issue was raised by Turner, who claimed that more than 40 members of the House of Representatives of the day were dual citizens and so were elected illegally.

George Turner said he would take the matter to the High Court

The right-wing Sydney-based lawyer, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the seat of Lowe in the 1987 Federal election and stood unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1990, apparently won few friends for his efforts to 'keep the bastards honest'.

Paul Owens believes a relentless media pursuit of George Turner, categorising him as 'whacky' and a member of the 'lunar right', contributed to his early death from a heart attack, leaving behind five children

Paul Owens, who has a strong interest in questions of justice and citizenship, has spent more than 40 years investigating a variety of legislative and constitutional issues both in Australia and the United Kingdom, consulting legal experts and original sources.

He said the Australian Electoral Office legal documentation for preselection required politicians to provide documentary proof of single citizenship, so it was clear that making verbal inquiries was not good enough.

He pointed out that Section 44(i) of the Australian Constitution required all Federal parliamentarians to "take all reasonable steps" to renounce any outside citizenship or entitlement to it when they stood for Federal parliament.

In November 1992, a 5-2 majority High Court decision in a case known as Sykes v Cleary defined 'all reasonable steps' as using the renunciation procedures of the other country or, if this was not possible, providing (documentary) proof of requesting renunciation.

At the time of that decision, no less than 21 sitting Federal politicians were born overseas, including two ministers, but many had already taken steps to shed their dual citizenship.

Paul said the Labor Party, the group most affected by the issue in 1990, had taken the court decision to heart and changed their documentary procedures.

Politicians who have faced questions over the possession of dual citizenship by descent include Nationals Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker, whose father Tom was born in Holland.

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