Australian Senator Larissa Waters recently went viral after she made history by becoming the first woman to breastfeed in the country’s Parliament. But Waters resigned today after it was revealed that she has dual citizenship in Australia and Canada, a breach of Australia’s constitution for sitting senators.
Waters, a member of Australia’s Green Party, became an international sensation in May when she breastfed her two-month old daughter in Australia’s parliament. The country had only just legalized the practice in 2016, paving the way for a more family-friendly environment in Australian politics.
Waters was born in Winnipeg in 1977 to two Australian parents and moved down under when she was just 11 months old. Australia’s constitution forbids anyone with dual citizenship from serving as a senator. Waters, who says she was unaware that she held citizenship in Canada, was elected in 2010.
“I was devastated to learn that because of 70-year-old Canadian laws I had been a dual citizen from birth, and that Canadian law changed a week after I was born and required me to have actively renounced Canadian citizenship,” Waters said at a press conference today.
“It is with a heavy heart that I am forced to resign as senator for Queensland and co-deputy leader of the Australian Greens, effective today,” she continued.
Waters is the second Australian senator who’s had to resign in as many weeks. Last week, another prominent member of Australia’s Greens resigned after it was revealed that he had dual citizenship. Scott Ludlam, a senator from Western Australia who was first elected in 2007, was born in New Zealand and became an Australian citizen as a teenager. He said that he believed becoming an Australian meant that he lost his kiwi citizenship, but that wasn’t the case.
Both Waters and Ludlam are coming under fire from rightwing opponents who claim that the two now-former senators should have to repay their salaries.
Tony Abbott, Australia’s Prime Minister from September 2013 to September 2015, had his own “birther” controversy while in office, having been born in the UK. But Abbott renounced his UK citizenship in the 1990s.
Australia’s most prominent far right party, One Nation, which proudly supported Donald Trump during the 2016 election, has had its own share of controversies about whether their members are allowed to sit in the senate. But they’ve often dealt with them in their suitably racist style.
Queensland’s Mark Ellis dropped out of a race back in April when photos on Facebook revealed him giving a Nazi salute in his backyard with a swastika burned into his lawn. And One Nation’s Senator Malcolm Roberts, who was born in India, tweeted today that he’s never owned a 7-11, adding that he’s “not even a chucker,” apparently in a reference to cricket. Roberts included the hashtag #NotIndian.
The Green Party’s Ludlam and Waters have both said that they will renounce their citizenship in New Zealand and Canada respectively. Constitutionally, they would be allowed to run again, but it’s not clear how much damage to their reputations has been done. Hopefully not more damage than the guy who literally burned a swastika into his grass.
Australia can be a confusing nation sometimes. Not least because it’s a country comprised of many immigrant groups where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state. And yet strangely it has a law against politicians holding dual citizenship, even from other Commonwealth countries.
Both Waters and Ludlam are expected to cede their seats to other Green Party members, as Australia’s parliament system priorities party over individual personality. But there’s no word yet on where that will leave Waters and Ludlam, should they choose to run for office again.