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How a Murdoch undergrad raised the s.44 spectre for MPs again

Hussein Al Asedy

Murdoch University law undergraduate Hussein Al Asedy’s fascination with citizenship helped him uncover a major legal issue with 26 politicians’ eligibility to sit in Federal Parliament.

Along with his supervisor Lorraine Finlay, the fourth year law student was thrust into the limelight recently when his diligent research into the third category of Section 44(i) of the Australian constitution unearthed an issue overlooked by law experts across the nation.

He found this section could effectively disqualify anyone from sitting in parliament who was born before 1983 to a British parent, making them a Commonwealth citizen with the right of abode. Although these people are not British citizens, they hold the right of abode in the UK, an unrestricted right to live, work, and study in the country. Essentially they are British citizens in everything but name.

High profile politicians including Bill Shorten, Adam Bandt and George Christensen are among those who could be disqualified under this part of Section 44(i).

Hussein said legal experts had been so caught up by the previous furore over dual citizenships governed by a different part of Section 44, that this third category had been overlooked.

“It is very rare for countries to give full citizenship rights to non-citizens. So the third category was likely ignored as many believed it was unlikely ever to disqualify anyone,” Hussein explained.

“Another potential reason is that constitutional law experts focus on more complex aspects of the Constitution. Citizenship provisions are relatively uncomplicated areas of law so ordinary people can understand them. If anything, this highlights the lack of due diligence by MPs, especially as many have law degrees themselves.”

Media attention

Hussein made his discovery after researching Section 44 for a week, then raised it with Ms Finlay, a law expert who has commented extensively on the Section 44 issues.

Together they submitted an article about the issue to a peer reviewed law journal, and soon after its publication, found themselves speaking to media.

“A highlight would definitely be speaking to ABC Radio about the article, as well as seeing it being mentioned on Channel 7 with Lorraine,” said Hussein.

‘The feedback has been positive. Further, more importantly, no one has disputed any of the legal arguments (at least to us).

“A strange moment occurred when a Perth MP, whom we believe holds Commonwealth citizenship with the right of abode, criticised the article for typos she had found in her name in the footnotes. While it was frustrating to have missed a typo after hours of review, it was somewhat validating that the only criticism a qualified lawyer could find was a typo.”

Honours thesis

Hussein said it was unlikely his discovery would lead to a second raft of disqualifications from Federal Parliament, mainly because Labor, the Liberals, the Nationals, the Greens and One Nation each have politicians potentially affected, and they would need to refer themselves to the High Court for a ruling.

But he is reaping the benefits personally from the experience and he will be researching the citizenship topic further next year for his Honours thesis.

“This experience has dramatically improved my legal research and writing skills,” said Hussein. “It is also exciting to have a paper published in a peer-reviewed law journal allowing me to experience the world of academia. None of this would've been possible without my supervisor and co-author Lorraine.”

Hussein has taken full advantage of the opportunities available to him as a law student at Murdoch, including representing the University in various domestic and international mooting competitions, assisting real clients with immigration matters as part of the SCALES program and traveling to Italy to learn about trade, EU and comparative law. He is hoping to practice law after completing his degree.

“I decided to study law as I enjoy solving problems and want to do something which had a real-world impact,” he said.

“Overall, my experience studying law at Murdoch has been fantastic, especially due to all the opportunities on offer. However, it must be said that none of it would be possible if it weren't for the hard work and dedication all the Law School staff put into running these programs.”
Posted on:

7 Aug 2019

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