Section 44: what’s not to like?

Until very recently, section 44 of the Constitution just seemed like any other archaic anti-democratic measure designed to ensure that only the most respectable and patriotic among the bourgeoisie ever made it into parliament.

But now that this quiet achieving piece of constitutional law looks set to bring down a conservative government, I’m starting to warm to it.

It’s not just that section 44 has managed to achieve what the combined might of the socialist movement, Labor Party and the unions haven’t: the probable demise of the reactionary Turnbull government. It’s also that its rigorous enforcement is setting some exciting legal precedents.

One is that if you break the law but claim not to be aware you were doing it, all will be forgiven by the Liberal Party and conservative establishment. This change of heart will come as welcome news to all those caught up in the criminal justice system for much more trivial offences than failing to comply with the founding document of the Australian state.

Anyone caught speeding, for instance, can presumably now simply say they didn’t know they were breaking the law as they didn’t think to check the speedometer. Forget fines; they can now expect to drive away with a handshake and pat on the back.

Secondly, if you defraud the Commonwealth, even of tens of millions of dollars, it will now be possible to avoid the inconvenience of repaying a single cent. You can be as lavish as you please furnishing offices, hiring staffers, taking overseas trips with public money and voting for your own pay rise. Even if it’s found to be unconstitutional, there will be no financial consequences at all. In fact, the very government you have defrauded will pay for counsel to take your case to the High Court to see whether the law might be bent in your favour to allow the spending to continue unabated.

Of course, no-one will be happier to hear about this new era of Commonwealth largesse than the thousands of welfare recipients who until now have been shown not even a skerrick of leniency, even for the most minor welfare overpayments. They will be breathing a collective sigh of relief knowing that this punitive regime is over and that all they have to do is find a way to claim ignorance or, better still, blame their mum for their misfortune. Thanks to Matt Canavan, they can rest assured that even if their explanations are not even remotely believable, the prime minister will have their backs.

All in all, I’ve never held any section of the Constitution in higher regard than section 44. I’m even thinking of getting it framed and hung on the wall. I’ll be sad to see it go when full democratic rights are eventually achieved in Australia.