Malcolm Turnbull and the citizenship crisis

When you think about the types of people you trust, "politicians" do not jump to mind. 

Experts who measure these things have repeatedly found politicians are regarded as a questionable bunch. In 2017, a Roy Morgan survey found only 16 per cent of those surveyed rated MPs for their ethics and honesty – putting our elected representatives in the same zone as stockbrokers and real estate agents. (In the interests of full disclosure: newspaper journalists scored a whopping 20 per cent.) 

So when a politician turns around and says "trust me", it's hard to know whether to laugh, cry or throw a tomato.

But "trust us" is exactly what Malcolm Turnbull is proposing we do on citizenship. 

On Monday, the Prime Minister announced a solution to the eligibility issue​. 

It's not an independent audit but a resolution that would require MPs to publicly declare they are not a citizen of another country, provide details about their family history and any steps taken to renounce extra citizenships. 

The emphasis here is on "personal obligation".

And as Turnbull has stressed, if people stuff up, the political consequences, at the very least, will be dire. But the draft proposal is littered with caveats, like "to the best of his or her knowledge and belief" and "so far as the member is aware".  

And this is a problem because MPs have repeatedly demonstrated that honour-based systems in politics are about as reliable as the hatchback I had in my 20s. 

Asking voters to trust parliamentarians about their citizenship is fanciful because in recent years, politicians have burned through the piddly​ stocks of trust they had. 

They have comprehensively shown they are not to be trusted on a whole range of fronts. 

When it comes to their parliamentary entitlements, they have been been busted using taxpayer dollars to fly in helicopters and buy investment properties on business trips. 

They have been busted for failing to accurately update their financial interests and then, of course, there are election promises. 

The onus should be on politicians to know their own situations and be upfront with the public about all relevant information.

But what sensible person could find it in themselves to suspend disbelief and think trusting them to do this will actually work? 

Judith Ireland


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