Australian politics

Australian deputy PM Barnaby Joyce may be ineligible for parliament, endangering government’s razor-thin majority

Joyce says he was ‘shocked’ by advice from Wellington that he may be a New Zealand citizen by descent

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 9:44am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 1:47pm

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says he may not be eligible for parliament and has referred himself to the high court to clarify whether he is a dual citizen of New Zealand.

Such dual citizenship would force Joyce from the House of Representatives, and would make him the highest-profile victim of the dual-citizenship saga that has already roiled the Australian Senate. The New Zealand high commission contacted the deputy prime minister last week to tell him that preliminary advice from the department of internal affairs indicated he could be a citizen of New Zealand by descent. The New Zealand government on Monday asserted that Joyce was indeed a New Zealand citizen

Joyce dug in on Monday, telling parliament he would not step aside while his matter was heard. He said he intended to fulfil his normal duties as deputy prime minister, because the government’s legal advice indicated he would not be disqualified by the court.

“The New Zealand government has no register recognising me as a New Zealand citizen,” he said.

While Joyce has faced questions from journalists about his eligibility for some weeks, given his father was born in New Zealand, he told parliament he was “shocked” by the advice from the New Zealand high commission.

“I’ve always been an Australian citizen born in Tamworth,” he said. “Neither I or my parents had any reason to believe that I may be a citizen of any other country.

“I was born in Australia in 1967 to an Australian mother and I think I’m fifth generation. My father was born in New Zealand, came to Australia in 1947 as a British subject – in fact, we were all British subjects at that time”.

“The concept of New Zealand-Australian citizenship was not created until 1948. Neither my parents nor I had ever applied to register me as a New Zealand citizen”.

However, the New Zealand government confirmed that, in its opinion, Joyce was in fact a Kiwi citizen.

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English said he was told last week that Joyce was a New Zealand citizen.

“Unwittingly or not, he’s a New Zealand citizen and then it’s a matter for the Australian system to decide how Australian law applies in his case and how they deal with the issue,” English said.

Joyce is the fifth federal parliamentarian to have his case go to the high court because of a potential breach of the constitutional requirements for eligibility.

Joyce has already assumed the portfolio responsibilities of his National Party colleague, Matt Canavan, who has already been referred to the high court because of his possible Italian dual citizenship.

The deputy prime minister will keep voting on legislation in the normal fashion while the case is heard.

The loss of Joyce’s vote on the floor would be deeply problematic for the government.

The conservative government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has a one-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Canavan has told the Senate he will not vote until his matter is heard. Canavan has been paired in the upper house.

The Senate last week referred the cases of Canavan, two Greens senators, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, and the One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts to the court over dual citizenships.

The Turnbull government is already facing another high court proceeding over one of its lower house MPs, David Gillespie, with concerns he may have an indirect financial interest in the Commonwealth, which, like dual citizenship, is grounds for disqualification under section 44 of the constitution.

There will be a directions hearing on the Gillespie case in August, with substantive hearings expected before the end of the year.

After Joyce’s statement to parliament, Malcolm Turnbull wrote to the Labor leader Bill Shorten on Monday inquiring whether he wanted to refer any cases of Labor MPs to the high court on the basis it would be desirable that all cases are heard at the same time.

Additional reporting by Associated Press