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Column: Australian government loses majority, birther crisis

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A recent birther crisis has wrecked the Parliamentary majority of Prime Minister Michael Turnbull’s Australian government. The Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was just found to be ineligible to sit in Parliament because he found out he was a dual citizen of New Zealand through his father, James Joyce. 

Joyce has become one of five MPs who have been ruled ineligible by the federal court in Australia, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. And with him gone, so is Turnbull’s razor-thin majority.

And Turnbull can thank his own Constitutional law for the change. Specifically, section 44 of the Australian Constitution, which explains that anyone with citizenship of another country is unable to sit in Parliament.

Now, we’re familiar to birther crises and scandals. After all, President Donald Trump once accused former President Barack Obama of being born outside the United States.

And while this wouldn’t have barred Obama from office, it certainly wouldn’t have looked good to the American public. The only thing the United States requires is that someone running for the White House be a "natural born citizen." 

That is one reason Ted Cruz, even though he qualified as a "natural born citizen,” renounced his Canadian citizenship when he ran for president in 2016, according to CNN.

It wasn’t until the 2016 election that Trump finally backed off his 2011 claims that Obama wasn’t born in the United States. 

But here’s why three reasons why this is important in Australia.

1. Turnbull’s ruling collation is struggling to keep power. While his Deputy Joyce has renounced his New Zealand citizenship and has told BBC that he will run for his seat again, this could backfire. Turnbull might not only lose his majority, but also another party could gain the seat.

2. As of 2016, more than a quarter of Australia’s population, 28.5 percent or 6.9 million people, were born overseas, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It’s arguable this section of the Constitution is in need of major revision, because it does not reflect or correspond with Australia’s claims as a multicultural and welcoming country.

3. If the clause is outdated it may result in a case like the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Afroyim v. Rusk. Before that case any U.S. citizen who voted in a political election in a foreign state would forfeit his or her U.S. citizenship.  After it, dual citizens were allowed keep their right to vote and hold public office. This controversy could lead to something similar in design for Australia.

While it is still early to bet on any one outcome, I think there is a good chance the Australian Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters will look into changing the law.

"The Government will refer the decision to the committee so it's able to consider, among other things, whether any changes to Section 44 should be recommended," Turnbull said to Australian Broadcasting Company.

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