image

Australian politics

Australia’s Deputy PM renounces New Zealand citizenship amid claims of plot to topple government

If Barnaby Joyce was disqualified, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s centre-right government could lose its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives, where parties need a majority to govern

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 1:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 10:40pm

Australia’s “accidental Kiwi” deputy prime minister renounced his New Zealand citizenship Tuesday amid sheep jokes, Hollywood taunts and conspiracy theories about a left-wing plot to topple Canberra’s conservative government.

Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce revealed his New Zealand connection on Monday, sparking calls for him to stand down as it is illegal for dual citizens to sit in the Australian parliament.

By Tuesday afternoon, Joyce told parliament that authorities in Wellington had agreed he could renounce the New Zealand citizenship unknowingly acquired from his Dunedin-born father.

“We received verbal communication from New Zealand before question time that that has now been accepted and we’re looking forward to the written advice turning up pronto,” he said.

The development does not mean the end of the bizarre affair, which threatens Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s one-seat majority in parliament.

But Joyce will hope it bolsters the case to remain in his job, preserving the government’s wafer-thin buffer, until the High Court determines if he is eligible to sit as an elected official.

The 50-year-old is best known internationally for threatening to euthanise Johnny Depp’s dogs Pistol and Boo when they were brought into the country illegally, and has insisted he is staying on in parliament.

Unwittingly or not, he is a New Zealand citizen. It’s a matter for the Australian system to decide how Australian law applies
New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English

Depp’s ex-wife Amber Heard, who kept the dogs after they split, was revelling in his discomfort, tweeting Tuesday “when Barnaby Joyce said ‘no one is above the law’, I didn’t realise he meant New Zealand law’.”

“To comfort Mr. Joyce in his hour (of) need, I have sent him a box of New Zealand’s finest kiwi fruit (assuming this passes his biosecurity laws),” she added.

Joyce, who Depp once said “looks somehow inbred with a tomato”, has long cultivated an image as a straight-talking Aussie bushman, usually sporting a wide-brimmed Akubra hat and elastic-sided farm boots.

The deputy Australian leader was “shellshocked” to learn last week of automatically qualifying as a New Zealander even though he had never applied for citizenship.

New Zealand officials said queries from Australian journalists prompted last week’s discovery about Joyce’s status.

However, Turnbull said it was “outrageous and improper” that a New Zealand Labour MP, Chris Hipkins, also admitted asking questions about the issue last week after talks with someone from the Australian Labor Party.

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar alleged a conspiracy between the Australian and New Zealand centre-left parties, likening it to cold war espionage.

“Not since the old days of worrying about Soviet Russia, that is how long since we have had to worry about these sort of things,” he told Sky News.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went further, casting doubt on whether Canberra could work with New Zealand Labour if it won a general election scheduled for next month.

“I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia,” she said.

Her remarks were labelled “false claims” by NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who lodged a formal complaint with the Australian High Commission in Wellington.

The turmoil saw the Sydney Morning Herald label Turnbull’s centre-right coalition government as “on the brink”, while The Australian opined “PM under a long white cloud”, referencing the Maori name for New Zealand.

Other newspapers chose to ramp up the trans-Tasman rivalry with New Zealanders, who Australians like to characterise as sheep-loving country bumpkins.

“Ewe have got to be joking... it could be haka-la-vista for Barnaby,” headlined Brisbane’s Courier Mail, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun chipping in “All Black for Baa-naby”.

The Adelaide Advertiser asked “Why so sheepish Barnaby?”, while Sydney’s Daily Telegraph dubbed Joyce “Barnaby choice, bro” - a play on the politician’s name and a popular Kiwi phrase.

A tweet from the Northern Territory News harked back to the long list of Kiwi icons claimed by Australia.

“Still shocked about this Barnaby Joyce controversy. We always considered him as Aussie as Russell Crowe, Phar Lap and Split Enz,” it said.