Dual citizenship restrictions on MPs

Note: this post originally appeared on ‘Douglas to Dancing’, a blog I maintained from 2007-9 on the ACT New Zealand political party. The blog was an extension of the thesis I wrote about the Act Party in 2007, From Douglas to Dancing: explaining the lack of success of ACT New Zealand and evaluating its future prospects (PDF).

This week in Melbourne I attended a lecture at which I learnt that here one is barred from standing for parliament if he or she is a dual citizenship holder. This means that every MP in the Australian House or Senate in Canberra is an Australian citizen only.

As far as I know, no such rule applies in New Zealand, although the Harry Duynhoven case in 2003, in which a special law was passed to allow Duynhoven to continue as an MP despite breaking the Electoral Act by reapplying for his Dutch citizenship, while still an MP. The Christchurch Press reported on 11 August 2003:

Government MP Harry Duynhoven inadvertently breached part of section 55 of
the Electoral Act when he reapplied for his Dutch citizenship — an action that
has been outlawed for MPs since 1850.

Labour decided that the best way to fix the situation, and to avoid a
potentially messy by-election in New Plymouth, was to change the law
retrospectively so that Mr Duynhoven (and any other MP who may have also applied for a foreign passport but will not own up) was in the clear.

It is the duty of opposition parties to oppose and to make every issue
sound like the veritable death knell of civilisation as we know it. That is a
shame, because it means that when the Government does something genuinely
outrageous, they are left grasping for adjectives — having already used the
best ones opposing the last round of Budget estimates.

ACT leader Richard Prebble, one of Parliament’s most senior MPs, called
the Electoral Vacancies Amendment Bill (or Harry’s Law, as it will be forever
known) “a constitutional outrage” and “one of the most disgraceful acts I’ve
seen in Parliament”.

Note that Duynhoven’s offence was to reapply for citizenship and not merely hold a foreign passport (which would be illegal in Australia). Note also that ACT was a vociferous critic of passing “Harry’s law” which legalised his offence. And finally, note that Labour portrayed the existing law as archaic and worthless and appears to place far less value on citizenship issues than Australia.

My question is this: what if the Australian no-dual-citizenship rule were applied in New Zealand? I can think of several ACT MPs who were born to British parents, for example. Richard Prebble, for one, was born in the United Kingdom unless I am very much mistaken. Deborah Coddington, another prolific former ACT MP, was also of English extraction, while Muriel Newman has talked about how her family emigrated when she was a child to give her a better chance in a supposedly class-less New Zealand. Of course, just because one is of British parentage does not necessarily mean that one holds a British passport, but because of the benefits bestowed (e.g. ease of travel), it is certainly very likely that these former MPs hold a second passport. There may be others in ACT who hold dual citizenship as well, but these names were the ones that came to mind. Outside of ACT, both Helen Clark and John Key may well be eligible for foreign passports, as Key was of European background and Clark has an Irish grandparent, although as I recall she did not want to take this up out of loyalty to New Zealand.

Had the Australian rule applied, this would have excluded Prebble, Coddington and Newman from standing for office, unless they renounced their foreign citizenship. This provides an interesting counter-factual argument. If ACT had lacked the skills of Prebble, would it have entered Parliament at all? Another question is this: should New Zealand have a similar rule to Australia? New Zealand must have the most relaxed attitudes to citizenship in the world. Permanent residents lack few of the benefits held by New Zealand citizens; indeed, they have voting rights, which would be out of the question in most other countries, including Australia. The Howard government in particular used citizenship to foster national identity in a way that New Zealand has not and even altered the name of its Ministry for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, removing the latter two words in favour of “Citizenship”.

With the Labour-led government focus on national identity, and New Zealand First’s more hard-nosed nationalism, I wonder if citizenship will become a future issue for debate in New Zealand politics?

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