Half a dozen Australian members of Parliament have resigned or are threatened with the need to do so after "discovering" that they are dual citizens, forbidden from serving (how surprising this truly is to them is a matter of debate).

How did the Australian Parliament get into a situation in which so many members ran afoul of the law? Were past Parliaments full of non-declaring dual citizens that weren't called on it, or did children of a midcentury wave of immigration all win office in parallel?

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    Well answered on already by BBC News I believe. Relevant to note that "26.3% of Australians were born overseas", and "nearly half of Australians were either born overseas or had one or both parents who were". Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 5:40
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    This isn't the first time it has happened - an MP was outed as having dual citizenship in 1992. Disqualification meant the runner up in the election should have been given the seat - but the number 2 AND the number 3 in that seat were also dual citizens and disqualified...
    – user6298
    Commented Aug 18, 2017 at 6:15
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    Why should it be surprising, considering the percentage of Australians who are immigrants? If your parents immigrated from countries which (unjustifiably, IMHO) claim that their born-in-Australia offspring are still citizens of those countries, and your parents don't tell you, how could you be expected to know? (I've friends whose eldest daughter could potentially claim 4 citizenships: Finnish & French from her parents' original nationalities, US because her parents became US citizens, and British because she was born when her parents were working there.)
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 5:25
  • @jamesqf it's surprising to me because the same thing did not happen in previous Parliaments. One single event in 1992, and then six MPs all at once in 2017? Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 5:29
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    @Aaron Brick: Maybe nobody thought of it as being a useful way of attacking their political opposition until now?
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 17:47

3 Answers 3


Since you asked "how were they unaware", the answer is surprisingly simple.

A lot of people simply don't know (and largely don't care) about being technically a dual citizen. Heck, I might theoretically be a Russian citizen (as an immigrant from fUSSR), but absent a practical need to ensure that I'm not, I won't ever bother checking - it literally seems like a waste of time to me, vs more important things like posting on StackExchange :)

This goes double for countries whose dual citizenship (from the linked article, Italy, UK, New Zealand) is almost guaranteed to NOT bring any practical problems, outside of apparently arcane and nobody-is-aware-of MP rules in Australia.

To bring this answer on topic, it also shows that opposition research in Australia seems rather lackluster. In most competitive US races, a fact like this would have likely been ferreted out by opposition research - or candidate's own opposition-research-defense-team - and brought up during the election (cough Ted Cruz cough McCain cough Obama )


Australia is a country of immigrants. There has been a long policy of encouraging immigration to skilled people, especially from Britain and other Commonwealth nations. This means that nearly half of Australians were either born overseas, or had parents who were. Most of these hold the right to citizenship of a country other than Australia, and many have exercised that right, often by simply not renouncing the other citizenship. Australia does allow dual nationality, so a child of Australian/British parents may have taken up British citizenship at birth without her knowledge. She may not even hold a British passport, yet still have the right to one. A person born in Australia, whose mother was British other than by descent, is a British citizen (by descent) unless they explicitly renounce their citizenship.

While the rules for parliamentarians have existed for some time, it seems that they have not been strictly enforced, or rather there has been little or no interest in investigating whether individuals might be dual national. It is only after a number of high profile cases has this issue become of interest to the population. Previous parliaments probably had just as many dual citizens.


Critical difference: those who fell afoul of Section 44 of the Constitution all had dual citizenship with the UK, Canada, and NZ—countries that were part of the British Empire. (The Italian case, as it happens, did not end up disqualified.) Those countries were not regarded as "foreign countries" until Australian citizenship was introduced in 1949.

And critically, as Waleed Aly has editorialised, there's a holdover of Anglo-Australians still not really regarding the UK and Dominions (white Commonwealth countries) as "foreign". Sam Dastyari and Anne Aly spent plenty of money disclaiming their Iranian and Egyptian citizenship, because the "foreignness" of their birthplaces was far more obvious. This isn't about the post-WWII wave of migration from non-Anglo countries; this is about a lack of awareness around Britain and New Zealand being foreign countries too.

Just as @James-K says, it is almost certain that there were routine violations of Section 44 in previous parliaments. This particular round of Section 44 started with Perth barrister John Cameron bringing up Senator Ludlam's New Zealand dual citizenship in 2017. Cameron had previously raised concerns about the UK dual citizenship of PM Julia Gillard and then Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott in 2011. At the time, the High Court dismissed his argument; whatever the actual status of Abbott and Gillard, Cameron got luckier with Ludlam 6 years later, as he admits ("low hanging fruit").

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