5 May 2019

Zaki's dual citizenship drama rocks Liberal campaign

| Ian Bushnell
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Mina Zaki: Citizenship doubt clouds campaign. Photo: Facebook.

The Liberal Party from the Prime Minister down is standing by its candidate for Canberra, Mina Zaki, whose eligibility to stand is now under a dual citizenship cloud.

Ms Zaki was born in Afghanistan and moved to Australia when she was seven but only moved to renounce her Afghan citizenship when she decided to run for Parliament, winning preselection for the redistributed central ACT seat in December last year.

According to the Guardian, it appears her efforts to do so remain incomplete with final approval by the Afghan authorities still to be confirmed.

According to the checklist submitted to the Australian Electoral Commission, Ms Zaki says she renounced her Afghan Citizenship on 16 April but the supporting document dated 16 April is merely a letter to the Ministry of Justice recommending her application be accepted.

Nominations for the federal election closed on 23 April and Ms Zaki may still have been an Afghan citizen at that time.

Approval for renunciation must be given by the Afghani Council of Ministers and a confirmation letter is usually sent to the appropriate embassy through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Canberra Liberals said in a statement that Ms Zaki had managed to renounce her Afghan citizenship and obtained documentation but did not say what that was or produce any document.

“The Liberal Party is proud to endorse candidates from all over the world who have decided to make Australia home and participate in our democracy,” it said.

“Despite the difficult circumstances, Mina Zaki has indeed managed to renounce her Afghan citizenship and obtain, from the Government of that war-torn country, documentary confirmation that she has lost her Afghan nationality. She would be an outstanding representative for the people of Canberra.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also dismissed any speculation about her eligibility.

“I don’t have any concerns about that. That’s the advice that I’ve received,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Brisbane.

“It highlights – she’s a former Afghani. How good’s that? That’s who’s running for the Liberal Party. I think that demonstrates the diversity of the candidates that we’re putting to this election.”

This is the first election where all candidates are required by the AEC to complete an eligibility checklist declaring whether they have any issues, such as bankruptcy or dual citizenship, that could put them in breach of section 44 of the Constitution.

The doubts around Ms Zaki’s eligibility may well be academic because she is not expected to win the seat, in which Labor’s Alicia Payne is the firm favourite, although the Greens’ Tim Hollo hopes to mount a strong challenge.

But it comes as yet another distraction for the Coalition, which lost three candidates last week over their social media comments.

Labor said Ms Zaki’s eligibility to stand was a matter for the Liberal Party.

Mr Hollo, who has had his own laborious path to renouncing overseas citizenship, called for the reform of section 44.

“Mina and I don’t agree on many policies, but that’s the point – elections should be fought on policies, not on the candidates’ cultural backgrounds,” he said.
“Australia is a diverse society, and our Parliament should reflect that. Section 44 discourages so many Australians with international family connections from running for Parliament. I was only able to resolve my own citizenship issues by investing 14 months in tracing my family’s migration journey and multiple citizenship renunciations. Most prospective candidates aren’t in a position to do that.
“We need to reform Section 44 to remove this racist barrier from our democracy. In the meantime, the Australian Government should offer non-partisan support to people seeking to run for Parliament to navigate the citizenship procedures of other countries. It could take the form of a specialist unit within DFAT, available to advise prospective candidates.”

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