Canberra in crisis as deputy PM ruled ineligible for parliament
Barnaby Joyce’s position was thrown into doubt earlier this year over dual citizenship
The Australian government is in crisis after the high court ruled deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce ineligible to sit in parliament, meaning it has lost its one-seat majority.
Mr Joyce, who sat in the lower house of parliament, and six upper house senators were investigated over questions about their eligibility due to their holding citizenship of another country.
Four of the senators – one from Mr Joyce’s National party, two Greens and one from the far right One Nation party – were also found to be ineligible, while two others were cleared to remain in parliament.
However, one of those two, Nick Xenophon, had already resigned to run for a seat in the state parliament of South Australia.
Both the Greens senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, had also resigned when their dual nationality, of New Zealand and Canada respectively, came to light.
At least three opposition Labor MPs with Irish parents –Brendan O’Connor, Deborah O’Neill and David Feeney – had to renounce Irish citizenship in order to run for parliament.
When the cases of Mr Ludlam and Ms Waters came to light in July, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull accused the Greens of “extraordinary negligence” and “incredible sloppiness”, but he stopped that line of attack when members of his government were also reported to have dual citizenship.
With its one-seat majority now gone, the Liberal-National coalition will have to rely on the casting vote of the speaker to pass legislation until a byelection for Mr Joyce’s rural New South Wales seat of New England is held on December 2nd.
Mr Joyce is running in the byelection, having recently renounced the citizenship he inherited from his New Zealand-born father. He apologised to voters in his electoral division and said he respected the verdict of the court.
Labor’s deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said Mr Turnbull showed “reckless judgment” in keeping Mr Joyce and Fiona Nash, who has also been excluded by the high court, in cabinet, despite uncertainty over their ministerial decisions.
“Every decision made by Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash since October last year is under a legal cloud,” Ms Plibersek said.
Mr Turnbull is taking over Mr Joyce’s portfolios of agriculture and water, but expects that to be a temporary arrangement. “I’m confident that [MrJoyce] will win once again the support of the people of New England,” the prime minister said.
The court’s verdict has come at the end of a difficult week for the government. On Wednesday the employment minister, Michaelia Cash, was accused of misleading parliament when she repeatedly denied that either she or her office alerted the media to a federal police raid on a union office in Melbourne.
By that evening, Ms Cash was forced to correct the record and admit one of her advisers had tipped off the media about Tuesday’s raid. The staff member subsequently resigned.
On Thursday, Jacinda Ardern was sworn in as prime minister of New Zealand after an election campaign that saw an extraordinary intervention from Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop. Ms Bishop accused Ms Ardern’s Labour party of colluding with Australia’s Labor party to dig up information on Mr Joyce’s citizenship, saying it was “treacherous behaviour”.
“Should there be a change of government, I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia,” Ms Bishop said.
There are only two sitting weeks left before the Australian parliament goes on its long summer break.