Seven Australian politicians entangled in a dual citizenship debacle have stood before the country’s highest court in the first of three days of hearings that may upset the government’s one-seat legislative majority. The most significant case in the hearing on Tuesday involved Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, whose possible dismissal from parliament could put at risk the coalition government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Joyce, who leads the rural-based National Party, was born in Australia but realized back in August that he had automatically acquired New Zealand citizenship through his father.
The legislator has since formally renounced his New Zealand citizenship. However, if the court disqualifies him from the parliament, he would have to run again to win back his seat in a by-election, extending the political uncertainty for the Turnbull administration.
Joyce’s deputy and upper house Senator Fiona Nash, fellow National Party Senator Matt Canavan and four other legislators from minor parties are also caught in the controversy.
The lawmakers had their cases referred to the High Court after being discovered to be in violation of a previously vague constitutional rule that prohibits dual citizens from parliamentary elective office.
This is while Solicitor-General Stephen Donoghue is arguing that the cases involving foreign-born lawmakers — One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts (India) and the Greens’ Scott Ludlam (New Zealand) — should be handled differently from those who inherited foreign nationality by descent.
According to local media reports, Donoghue, who is leading the government’s case, told the High Court in Canberra that Roberts and Ludlam fell into the category of those who had knowledge of their status as dual citizens but “shut their eyes to it.”
The dual citizenship rule was originally inserted into the 1901 constitution to ensure parliamentarians were loyal only to Australia. Critics, however, argue that the rule is out of step with Australia’s existing reality, where 50 percent of the nation’s population are either foreign-born or the children of immigrants.—Agencies