Yesterday the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Barnaby Joyce addressed the parliament confirming that he had received legal advice that he might actually be a New Zealander. This is problematic for the MP, as section 44 of the Australian Constitution disqualifies any person who is a citizen or “subject of a foreign power” from sitting as a senator or member of the House of Representatives.
Joyce told the parliament that he learnt last week that he could be a citizen of New Zealand by descent via his father. Just hours later, New Zealand’s Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne confirmed Joyce was a New Zealand citizen under the Citizenship Act (1948). New Zealand’s Prime Minister confirmed Joyce would be a citizen of the country “unwittingly or not”- “It is a matter for the Australian system to decide how Australian law applies in his case and how they deal with this issue,” the Prime Minister told reporters.
Joyce is the latest in a list of parliamentarians who have been caught out by the disqualification provisions under the Constitution, including Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, and Liberal Senator Matthew Canavan. Joyce joins One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, who is having his case heard by the High Court to determine his citizenship.
Should Joyce be found to be ineligible to hold his position, a by-election could threaten the Government’s majority of just one seat in the Lower House, potentially forcing a hung parliament. Labor and the Greens have called for Joyce to stand down, however he has refused, saying that the Government’s lawyers were of the “firm view” that the High Court would not disqualify him because his New Zealand’s citizenship had been conferred on him without his knowledge.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has put his support behind Joyce, saying that he was “very confident” that the Deputy PM was qualified to hold his position.