High stakes for Turnbull government as High Court hears MPs’ citizenship cases


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Barnaby Joyce is on tenterhooks. Despite Malcolm Turnbull’s confidence that the High Court will find for him, Joyce’s parliamentary eligibility is a key to how the government finishes the year.

From Tuesday to Thursday, the court will consider what is surely one of the most extraordinary set of cases to come before it – the constitutional position of seven current and former MPs who were dual citizens.

All but Joyce are or were senators, which means that the only potential byelection that could be caused is for Joyce’s seat of New England. Three are Nationals: Joyce, Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan. Canavan quit the ministry (but not the parliament) when his issue arose; Joyce and Nash remain on the frontbench.

The two Greens, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, resigned from parliament when they discovered their dual nationality. It was Ludlam’s departure that started the dominoes falling, as others checked their positions. Both Greens argue they were ineligible to sit – although the Commonwealth is actually saying Waters was eligible.

The remaining two are One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, and Nick Xenophon.

Roberts, Ludlam and Waters were born overseas. The rest had foreign citizenship by descent. Joyce and Ludlam were New Zealanders; Nash, Xenophon and Roberts had British citizenship; Waters found herself a Canadian because she was born there during her parents’ brief stay; Canavan was Italian.

There have been some bizarre twists. Canavan said initially his mother had signed him up to Italian citizenship without his knowledge; later it was found she hadn’t had to – he already had it.

This latter fact is important for the Commonwealth’s legal argument. It is contending the constitutional provision about citizenship was only intended to exclude those who acted positively to obtain foreign citizenship or knowingly kept it. If Canavan’s Italian citizenship was gained by positive action, he wouldn’t be protected by that argument, as he would be if he were Italian by descent.

Xenophon had a very weak form of British citizenship, via his father, who had emigrated from Cyprus, which was a British territory.

The court has already declared that Roberts, who sent questions about his status to defunct email addresses, was a British citizen when elected, although it has not yet ruled on his eligibility.

Section 44 (i) of the Constitution reads clearly enough, on the face of it.

A person cannot be chosen for or sit in federal parliament if he or she:

… is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power.

To clear themselves of this potential problem, an aspiring parliamentarian has to take proper steps to renounce a foreign citizenship.

It’s notable the major parties, which have good vetting, aren’t caught up in this case, although there have been allegations against some of their MPs.

The government is arguing that if the MP was Australian at birth (whether born here, or abroad to Australian parents) and wasn’t aware of their dual citizenship, they should not be found ineligible – in other words, that ignorance is a defence.

But if the MP was born overseas and later naturalised, the government argues, they were on notice about potentially being a foreign citizen, regardless of what they thought was the case. In this instance, according to the government’s argument, ignorance is not a defence.

If the court clears most of the MPs, it would be an effective rewrite, through interpretation, of the literal wording of this section.

The potential implications of the court’s decisions are wide and varied.

With Ludlam and Waters already out of parliament, the issue is just how they are replaced. If the court agrees with their own assessments that they were ineligible, their replacements will be the next candidates on the Greens 2016 tickets in Western Australia and Queensland, respectively Jordon Steele-John and Andrew Bartlett (a one-time Australian Democrats senator and leader).

If the court upheld the eligibility of one or both, the replacement or replacements would be chosen by the party. Ludlam has indicated he would not seek nomination; Waters, anxious to return to parliament, would be expected to do so.

It’s always possible, incidentally, for someone elected via a countback to then resign, leaving the way for the party to choose the replacement.

If Roberts is knocked out, the next on the One Nation ticket is Fraser Anning, who recently avoided another constitutional impediment: bankruptcy.

Disqualification of Xenophon would see Tim Storer of the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) installed. But if Xenophon’s eligibility is upheld, he will leave the Senate anyway, to contest the South Australian election. In that circumstance, his party would choose who followed him.

The disqualification of Nash and Canavan would lead to candidates down their respective 2016 New South Wales and Queensland tickets replacing them. That would create some internal complications regarding the numbers between the Coalition parties.

Professor Anne Twomey, from the University of Sydney Law School, noted that if Nash were disqualified and a recount held, she would most likely by replaced by the Liberal who was next on the joint ticket. She said:

Even if that Liberal then resigned in an effort to pass the seat back to the Nationals, the constitution requires that the person who fills the seat is a member of the same party as the senator who was ‘chosen by the people’.

This would not have been Nash, as she was disqualified, and therefore never validly chosen. It would be the Liberal who won the seat on the recount. This would mean that she would have to be replaced by a Liberal, upsetting the balance in the Coalition.

The loss of one or both National senators would also mean a reshuffle of portfolios. This would fit with Turnbull’s desire for an end-of-year reshuffle, but test the Nationals’ talent pool. (Canavan is out of the ministry but Joyce is acting in his roles.)

But it is the finding on Joyce that has the big implications. If he were forced to a byelection, it would rock the government – even though he would almost certainly retain his seat.

The first issue would be whether he stood down from the ministry.

Twomey noted that while the constitution allows a person to be a minister for three months without holding a seat, the problem would be that Joyce had not validly held a seat since July last year – “which suggests that his three-month grace period is well and truly over. On that basis he would have to stop acting as a minister immediately.”

With Joyce out of parliament, the government would lose its majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. The result of particular votes would depend on the issue, the crossbenchers and – if it came to that – the Speaker’s casting vote.

Fighting a byelection would be distracting and disruptive for a government struggling in the polls.

The former independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, who is maintaining in the High Court that Joyce should be disqualified, has not ruled out running in a byelection. One Nation could be in the field, as could the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, whose support will be tested in the NSW byelections this weekend.

The Newspoll quarterly breakdown, published this week, has found the government under pressure in regional areas. But a ReachTEL poll done last month for the Australia Institute found the Nationals polling 44.6% in New England, Windsor 26.5% and One Nation 9.8%, Labor 8.4%, and the Greens 2.4%.

The Queensland election, expected to be announced very soon, would be another dynamic in a byelection situation.

If, on the other hand, Joyce’s eligibility is upheld, Turnbull’s end-of-year reshuffle becomes much easier, especially with a strong win for the “yes” case now expected in the marriage ballot.

That still leaves the challenge of energy policy. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg on Monday signalled the government was turning its back on a clean energy target, a reflection of the strength of the conservative voices within Coalition ranks – a combination of right-wing Liberals and the Nationals.

On the present timetable, the government is likely to take the broad outlines of its energy policy to the Coalition partyroom when parliament resumes next week.

The ConversationBut the situation is fluid, with the outcome in the High Court the known unknown. While the timing isn’t precise, the court is expected to be quick with its decision. It is obviously not driven by politics, but it is alert to the need to provide political certainly as soon as possible.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Shorten shakes off citizenship pursuers as Labor pursues Joyce



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Bill Shorten tabled a copy of his UK citizenship renunciation documents on Monday.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

While it would have been much easier for the government if Barnaby Joyce had stood aside from cabinet while the High Court determined his parliamentary eligibility, the Nationals leader was too big a fish for that to happen.

But the political price of his retention is substantial, as Monday made clear.

Labor started the parliamentary week with a suite of questions about the citizenship imbroglio, including interrogating Malcolm Turnbull about the possible illegality of the ministerial decisions Joyce and his deputy, senator Fiona Nash, are now making, if the court doesn’t go as Malcolm Turnbull so confidently predicts.

Let’s be clear. This wasn’t Labor rendering the parliament chaotic, as some earlier hype had anticipated. Rather, it was a proper use of Question Time to pursue detail the government would rather avoid, and highlight a potential problem.

Turnbull argued Labor was playing politics “at a time when we face the gravest threat to peace on the Korean Peninsula, at a time at home when we
have Australian families and businesses bearing the brunt of higher and higher electricity prices”. Well, that’s true, but the matters being raised are legitimate.

For instance, constitutional experts warn that if the High Court ruled against the ministers, the decisions they made in this period could be legally problematic.

A person can be a minister without being a parliamentarian for three months under the Constitution. But if the High Court declared Joyce and Nash ineligible and the three months dated from the election, the grace period would not protect these decisions.

For the government, the worst of the situation is that the pressure on Joyce is a well to which Labor can keep returning, especially at the moment. When Turnbull goes to the Pacific Islands Forum late this week, Joyce briefly becomes acting prime minister.

To keep the heat on Joyce, Bill Shorten decided to accept the government’s challenge and finally produce the evidence that he properly renounced his British citizenship before entering parliament.

Like Joyce and Nash he had dual citizenship by descent – but, unlike them, he was aware of it and dealt with it.

Shorten had repeatedly resisted producing the documentation. It had been thought that, while he was certainly OK, he didn’t want to expose any of his colleagues whose affairs mightn’t be in order, despite the ALP’s rigorous checking process.

On Monday morning Tony Abbott flourished evidence of renouncing his own British citizenship and said Shorten should do the same. “Show your letter or shut up about Barnaby Joyce,” Abbott said. Turnbull pressed the point in Question Time.

Abbott would have been pretty happy that his action was followed so soon by a result.

By tabling his documentation, Shorten in theory may have made it harder for others to resist demands for paperwork. But one suspects the government has lost the will for this chase.

Recently the position of Labor’s ACT senator Katy Gallagher, whose mother was born in Ecuador of British citizens who were in that country temporarily, has come under some question. In a statement to the Senate on Monday, Gallagher quoted two legal opinions supporting her eligibility. That looks to be that.

Most immediately, Shorten has stopped the government being able to divert attention from the Joyce situation onto the furphy about him.

Having erected the barricades around Joyce and Nash, the government will face continuing attacks – until things get better when the ministers receive the all clear, or very much worse if the decisions are adverse.

The government’s only counter is its argument that Labor is concentrating on political point-scoring when the nation’s sights should be higher, and the ALP does have to take some care on that front.

As the citizenship issue continued to gnaw at the government, the Coalition trailed in the 19th consecutive Newspoll. Labor’s two-party lead has narrowed from 54-46% to 53-47% in a fortnight, and the Coalition’s primary vote was up two points to 37%, but in voting terms this was another status quo poll.

From the government’s perspective, the encouraging change has been Turnbull widening his lead as better prime minister from ten points to 17 points.

Last week Turnbull was going out of his way to show he was focusing on power prices, so preoccupying for many voters. There was the helicopter ride to the Snowy and the summoning of electricity chiefs to Canberra again to tell them to give consumers better information about the best deals to lower their bills.

The ConversationBut these are easy gestures, as the battle within the government looms over a clean energy target – the seminal policy decision between now and the end of the year.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/qi46m-71c69c?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

No legal doubt over decisions Joyce and Nash take: Brandis



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George Brandis said the government would ask the court to deal with the citizenship issue urgently.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Attorney-General George Brandis has insisted there will be no legal doubt over decisions taken by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash while the High Court determines their eligibility to sit in parliament.

This comes as crossbencher Nick Xenophon has announced he will refer himself to the High Court after being advised he has British overseas citizenship through his father Theodoros Xenophou, who came from Cyprus, a British colony at the time. Xenophon will continue to vote in the Senate.

Meanwhile, cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos has suggested that perhaps the Constitution’s citizenship section will eventually need to be addressed.

“Down the track after we have sorted this all out and the High Court have had a chance to look at this, maybe we need to go back to some of the reports of the parliament itself about the status of parts of Section 44 in the light of what happened in our society,” he told the ABC.

Joyce and Nash are under pressure from the crossbenchers and the opposition to stand down from the ministry while their status is determined. A third National whose parliamentary eligibility is before the court, Matt Canavan, resigned from the ministry.

All three were dual citizens when elected, and so could be ruled out under Section 44 of the Constitution, which prohibits dual nationals being eligible for parliament. The government, however, has said repeatedly it is confident the court judgment will be in their favour.

Brandis pointed to Section 64 of the Constitution, which allows a person to be a minister for three months without being in the parliament.

“I do not think there is a problem and I don’t think there’s any doubt,” he said.

Professor of constitutional law at Sydney University, Anne Twomey, in an article for The Conversation, wrote that the ministers’ decisions could come into legal doubt from when “they admit to being a dual national and refer to the High Court the question of their qualification to sit in the parliament, especially if the invalidity to hold parliamentary office exceeds three months.

“For this reason, it would be prudent for those ministers who are currently under a cloud concerning their lawful occupation of office to cease to make decisions which are contentious or might give rise to legal challenges with significant consequences,” Twomey wrote.

Brandis said the government would ask the court to deal with the citizenship issue urgently. “I think realistically that may be in the first fortnight of October,” he told Sky. The court now has the citizenship circumstances of seven current and former MPs to consider. The government has confirmed they are all paying their own legal costs.

The Nick Xenophon Team made it clear at the weekend that its House of Representatives member, Rebekha Sharkie, would not vote against the government on matters of confidence or supply. This followed Sharkie being reported in Fairfax Media saying she had decided she would no longer support the government on these. She said she was “quite frustrated with the prime minister” for retaining the ministers in cabinet.

In the weekend statement, Sharkie continued to call for Joyce to stand aside as minister pending the High Court decision. But the statement said: “NXT has made it clear that until the High Court decision, they expect to support the government on matters of confidence and supply”.

Xenophon said on Saturday: “Overnight I have received advice from the United Kingdom Home Office that they consider I am a British Overseas Citizen (a historical category of citizenship formerly known as a Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies).

“The UK Home Office has advised this on the basis that my father, Theo, was born in Cyprus when it was under British occupation, and migrated to Australia in 1951 – over 66 years ago.

“The great irony here is that my father left Cyprus in order to escape British Colonial rule.

“At that time he appears to have travelled to Australia on British Colonial travel documents.

“I was born in Adelaide, South Australia … in 1959.

“It was obviously unknown to me or my family that I was deemed to be a Colonial UK Citizen by virtue of the 1948 British Nationality Act.

“Cyprus became independent of its colonial power on August 16, 1960. At the moment of independence, every Cypriot lost their colonial UK citizenship status.

“I would have lost that colonial status as well if my father was living in Cyprus at the time or in any other country in the world except, according to the then British Nationality Act, these nine countries: Canada, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Union of South Africa, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Newfoundland (then a separate dominion, now part of Canada) and Australia …

“The oral advice from the UK Home Office last night is that this whole scenario is a quote ‘rare peculiarity’.

“Citizens of the UK and Colonies – CUKCs – without the right of abode in the UK, were reclassified as British Overseas Citizens on the 1st of January, 1983, after British nationality legislation was modernised.

“The UK Home Office now believes I am a British Overseas Citizen.

“I have made inquiries of the Home Office and researched what it means to be a British Overseas Citizen.

The Conversation“The literature on this and oral advice from the UK Home Office is that this form of citizenship is quote ‘useless’, and indeed in many cases it confers fewer rights than an Australian citizen travelling on an Australian passport to the United Kingdom would have,” Xenophon said.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/8ppnw-6fcd65?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

To the High Court we go: six MPs under clouds in decisions that could undermine the government



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Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is one of five MPs caught out in the ban in dual citizens holding seats.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Graeme Orr, The University of Queensland

Two green bottles and up to four blue ones. Falling from the parliamentary wall, unless the High Court saves them from the rules about MP qualifications. The six are now-resigned Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, fellow upper house members Matt Canavan (LNP) and Malcolm Roberts (One Nation), and two government members of the lower house, Barnaby Joyce and David Gillespie (both Nationals).

At least that’s the latest count, as of Monday’s referral of Joyce to the court. I hesitate to file this piece lest the number rise again today.

What happens now?

First, a word on process. Gillespie’s case is different from the others, in two ways. He is not a dual citizen but faces claims about his “pecuniary interest” in a shop sub-leased to Australia Post. This is the constitutional rule that knocked out Family First senator Bob Day in April.

Also, Gillespie is being sued by his former Labor Party rival, acting as a “common informer” – a fancy term for an officious bystander who sues to enforce the law.

This avenue to challenge an MP has not been used before. It’s not entirely clear the court has power to declare Gillespie “not duly elected”. (As opposed to exacting a penalty from an MP, in the princely sum of A$200, for any day they sat while under a disqualification.)

The other five – facing dual citizenship claims – are not being sued at all. Rather, parliament has referred their positions to the court. A few things flow from that, aside from the Commonwealth almost certainly having to cover their legal costs.

One is that there is no belligerent plaintiff to argue against, say, Joyce. There will just be the solicitor-general, putting legal arguments for the Commonwealth, plus lawyers for whichever of the other four MPs or their parties choose to be represented.

Yet Joyce, Canavan and Roberts share a desire to convince the High Court that they are legitimate, arguing on related grounds that it might be unfair to unseat them.

Another is that while the election is long over, the High Court says it can undo an election on a reference from parliament. This is due to a quirky, 30-year-old ruling. I say quirky because, for more than a century, there’s been an absolutely strict time limit for challenging elections.

With electoral fraud, unlawful campaigning, or electoral commission stuff-up, a court case must begin within 40 days of the election. Yet the High Court says it can undo election results, long afterwards, over qualifications issues.

What will the MPs argue?

We must await the arguments, but it seems that Joyce, Canavan and Roberts will argue that they either took reasonable steps to renounce (Roberts) or that it was unreasonable to expect them to have known of their dual citizenship (Joyce and Canavan). In a 1992 case, the High Court softened the law against dual citizenship to allow a defence of “reasonable steps” of renunciation.

Roberts was born in India (after partition) to a Welsh father. He took some steps – three emails in one day on the eve of nominating, apparently – to renounce his UK inheritance. Was that enough, given the UK has a set application form and fee for renunciation? Roberts, some time after the election, received notice that his UK citizenship was expunged.

Canavan, Australian-born, asserts that his mother took out Italian citizenship on his behalf, without his knowledge.

Similarly, Joyce, also Australian-born, says he was blindsided to learn he had New Zealand citizenship via his NZ-born father. They want the court to inject a subjective element – actual or constructive knowledge of dual nationality – to avoid a finding that taking no steps to renounce does not meet the idea of “reasonable steps”.

It’s possible Joyce will also argue the details of NZ law. For example, whether it automatically bestowed citizenship on him, or whether he was merely guaranteed it if he applied to activate it.

The Greens pair, by resigning, seemed to admit they were disqualified. But MPs cannot declare themselves improperly elected. Only the court can do that.

Ludlam (New Zealand) and Waters (Canada) were each born overseas, but to Australian parents. They left their birth countries at the tender ages of three years and 11 months respectively.

At least in Waters’ case, her family lore (not law) was that her nationalisation as an Australian toddler terminated any Canadian status. In some countries, you lose your birth citizenship when you take out another nationality. This was the law in Australia until recently.

The logic of the Greens’ political position is to have their two Senate seats filled ASAP. Yet, in substance, their pair are hardly more blameworthy than the other MPs, who seek to fight on. They have hemmed themselves in, however, by resigning.

If the court found their disqualifications were OK, the Greens could reappoint them or any other Greens member, under the old rule for filling a “casual vacancy”.

Finally, to legal consequences. If a senator is declared “unduly elected”, the Australian Electoral Commission conducts a recount. Invariably, the next candidate in the party’s original electoral ticket inherits the seat.

That windfall beneficiary can keep it, or the party could cajole them to resign in favour of … the unelected MP. Because all of these MPs, with sufficient paperwork and knowledge, can fix up their qualifications.

Roberts and Waters say they’ve done that. Joyce and doubtless Canavan have that in train.

In a lower house seat, however, a recount would be crazy. The seat would go to the rival major party, robbing the electorate. Instead, the court effectively triggers a byelection.

In a worst-case scenario for Joyce (or Gillespie), he would recontest that fresh election. A lot would be at stake in New England (or Port Macquarie). But it’s hard to see the electors there treating now-ex-Kiwi Joyce as a fifth columnist.

The law is an unnecessary mess

All this is a law professor’s picnic.

Section 44, as it applies to elections, detracts from, rather than adds to, democracy. Its technicalities are a thicket, catching many a candidate. It sits oddly in a Constitution that never guaranteed a right to vote, leaving that small matter to the national parliament.

It’s time for reform. We inherited the dual citizenship rule, an old rule about fealty to one Crown, from our English forebears.

The ConversationThe founders struck it in stone in the Constitution. Yet state parliaments are fine with dual citizens being elected. So too is New Zealand. And, funnily enough, so nowadays is the UK.

Graeme Orr, Professor of Law, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

No, it wasn’t a conspiracy that caused Barnaby’s problem – it was himself



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Barnaby Joyce has now renounced his New Zealand citizenship but his future is yet to be determined.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Let’s get one point straight. The crisis around Barnaby Joyce has been caused by one simple oversight by one person. Joyce was careless in not properly checking whether he complied with the citizenship requirement of the Australian Constitution.

He was not landed into this pickle by Bill Shorten, the New Zealand Labour Party, the media, or anyone or anything else. If he had acted years ago with abundant caution – or his party had – he wouldn’t have had a problem.

And the government’s over-the-top efforts on Tuesday to find a conspiracy begs the question: does it think an MP’s alleged breach of the Constitution, if suspected, should be just ignored?

At the extreme, wouldn’t there be a risk that, in such circumstances, an MP could be open to an attempt to compromise them?

A few weeks ago the Greens’ Scott Ludlam resigned when he found he was a citizen of New Zealand, which he left as a child. His dual citizenship came to his attention when a barrister started poking around. Ludlam accepted the situation with grace.

Of course much more is at stake politically with Joyce. It’s unsurprising and entirely appropriate that the government fights for him in the High Court – although it is another matter that he is not standing aside from the ministry.

But the government’s attempt to paint this as a “treacherous” Shorten executing a dark deed involving a foreign power is desperate distraction politics. After a bizarre attack by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on the New Zealand Labour Party, it morphed into a diplomatic own goal.

Joyce’s dual citizenship came to light after two lines of inquiry in New Zealand: questions from Fairfax Media, and a blogger, to the Department of Internal Affairs, and questions on notice from Labour MP Chris Hipkins, following his conversation with Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s chief-of-staff Marcus Ganley, who’s a Kiwi.

Bishop’s accusations and language at Tuesday’s news conference were extraordinary for a foreign minister, although they were just at the extreme end of the script used throughout the day by Malcolm Turnbull and others in the government.

“The New Zealand Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern has revealed that Bill Shorten sought to use the New Zealand parliament to undermine the Australian government,” Bishop claimed.

“Bill Shorten has sought to use a foreign political party to raise serious allegations in a foreign parliament designed to undermine confidence in the Australian government.

“This is highly unethical, at least, but more importantly, puts at risk the relationship between the Australian government and the New Zealand government,” she said.

According to the NZ minister for internal affairs, Peter Dunne, it wasn’t the Labour questions that set the ball rolling to the outing of Joyce’s NZ citizenship.

Dunne tweeted:

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But when this was put to Bishop, she said dismissively: “I don’t accept that”. That is, she rejected the word of a minister in a fraternal government.

Further, “New Zealand is facing an election. 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,” Bishop said.

And again: “I would find it very difficult to build trust with members of a political party that had been used by the Australian Labor Party to seek to undermine the Australian government”.

Here’s Australia’s foreign minister, in a fit of collective government pique, saying before the NZ election she’d have problems with the possible winners.

This was egregious on several fronts. It is both harmful and offensive. The Australian and New Zealand governments, of whatever complexion, should and need to be close. Bishop’s sweeping claims go well beyond what seems to have happened. And her attack on NZ Labour buys right into the electoral contest – her accusation of foreign interference in our politics could be turned back and levelled at her.

Ardern met Australian High Commissioner Peter Woolcott – soon to take up the role of Turnbull’s chief-of-staff – to express her disappointment at Bishop’s remarks, but also to stress the importance she attached to the Australian relationship.

In very measured remarks, contrasting with Bishop’s tone, Ardern told a news conference she first knew of the situation when it broke in the media on Monday.

When she saw the reference to the NZ Labour Party she’d immediately inquired and learned Hipkins had asked two questions. Hipkins shouldn’t have done so, she said, a point she’d made “absolutely clear” to him, and he’d acknowledged.

Hipkins had told her that when an ALP acquaintance had called him asking about citizenship “he had no context for who the question might relate to”.

Ardern said she would be happy to talk directly with Bishop (not that she had her phone number).

“The relationship between the New Zealand Labour Party and the Australian government is too important for politics to get in the way,” Ardern said. “Australian domestic politics is for them, not for us. We should not be involved.”

Later, Wong said her staffer had “informal discussions with New Zealand friends” about the Section 44 debate.

“At no point did he make any request to raise the issue of dual citizenship in parliament … In fact, neither I, nor my staff member, had any knowledge the question had even been asked until after the story broke.”

It was a day in which the Turnbull government looked more than a little unhinged. It caused a lot of angst across the ditch, got into an absurd barney with New Zealand Labour, and even had the New Zealand conservative government correct it.

In its attempt to throw mud at Shorten, the Turnbull government managed to do itself more harm.

The ConversationAnd at the end of it all Joyce, who has now renounced his New Zealand citizenship, still must have his future determined. It was announced that his case will come up on August 24 for a directions hearing, together with the two senators and two former senators also caught on the sticky paper of Section 44 (i).

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

New Zealand claims Barnaby Joyce as one of its own, in new dramatic citizenship turmoil



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Barnaby Joyce has been revealed to have New Zealand citizenship.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

We have it from the New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English that Barnaby Joyce is a citizen of his country. We have it from the Australian Constitution that you can’t be a federal MP if you are a dual national.

We have it from Malcolm Turnbull that “the deputy prime minister is qualified to sit in this house and the High Court will so hold”.

Work that one out.

Section 44 (i) bans from being a candidate anyone who “is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power”.

Joyce had been dismissive of media questions on the possibility he might be a citizen of New Zealand, where his father was born.

Then, on Thursday, Chris Seed, the New Zealand high commissioner, rang Joyce’s office with the worst of news. After Seed briefed Joyce’s chief-of-staff, Joyce instantly rang back, and the two met around 5.30.

The New Zealand Labour opposition had lodged questions on notice, which had to be answered the following week. There was also Australian media questioning of the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs.

While the parliamentary questions didn’t name Joyce, they obviously referred to him. Chris Hipkins, MP for Rimutaka, asked whether a child born in Australia to a New Zealand father would automatically have New Zealand citizenship.

Seed said the preliminary advice from the department was that Joyce was indeed a New Zealand citizen – a position English confirmed publicly on Monday.

The Turnbull government quickly sought advice from the federal solicitor-general, Stephen Donaghue; it came back on Sunday. It is understood that the advice focused on the reason for Section 44 (i) – to prevent allegiance to another country – and canvassed tests in relation to this.

These were:

  • Was the person born overseas?

  • Was he on a list of citizens of the other country?

  • Had he ever applied for citizenship of the country?

  • Had he ever sworn any sort of oath of acquiescence to the other country?

On these measures, according to the advice, the High Court would be expected to come down in Joyce’s favour.

The advice notwithstanding, constitutional expert Anne Twomey, from Sydney University Law School, is surprised Turnbull has been so unequivocal about the decision on Joyce.

“I’m not as confident as the prime minister seems to be,” she says. She believes that Joyce “potentially has a real problem”. But it is a matter of how the court interprets Section 44 (i), she says.

It may draw a distinction between citizenship by descent and other citizenship, Twomey says. “Or it could say the purpose of the provision is to prevent dual allegiance – and if you didn’t know [you were a foreign citizen] you were not breaching the purpose.”

The High Court mightn’t relish Turnbull – his barrister background notwithstanding – telling it what it will decide. But there’ll be a lot more at stake in its judgement on Joyce than the risk of Turnbull – and the solicitor-general, for that matter – being embarrassingly wrong.

If Joyce, the Nationals leader, were found in breach and so knocked out of parliament, that would create massive turmoil not just for the minor Coalition partner but for a government with a one-seat majority.

There’d be a byelection in his seat of New England, where in 2016 Joyce held off a challenge from the former independent member, Tony Windsor.

Joyce, who is busy divesting himself of his New Zealand citizenship, would no doubt run again and possibly face Windsor. While he had a comfortable win last time, byelections are dangerous, because they are custom-made for a protest vote.

The process would run into months. The Nationals would be effectively leaderless. The government would have lost its majority in the House of Representatives. It would be all right on supply and confidence, thanks to agreements with some crossbenchers, and would still get most legislation through. But where all the crossbenchers sided with Labor it would be in trouble.

It would be in nightmare territory, with Labor having endless opportunity for disruption.

Assuming Turnbull is right that Joyce will be found in the clear, the immediate situation is still very bad for the government. It’s another distraction, and a serious one, internally and externally.

On Thursday week there is a directions hearing for four others who are before the High Court in relation to Section 44 (i) – One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts and former minister Matt Canavan, from the Nationals, as well as the two Greens, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, who have already resigned.

The Joyce referral will join them. But the decision could be anytime between October and December, a very long period for uncertainty to swirl around the future of a key member of the government’s leadership team.

Turnbull tried to drag Bill Shorten in the shambles by offering to wrap into the referral any Labor MPs whose citizenship qualifications are dubious. Shorten, unsurprisingly, rebuffed him. Labor appears confident a tough vetting process means its MPs are in the clear. Nevertheless the government is throwing around names.

Labor jumped on the double standard being applied to Canavan – who quit cabinet and isn’t voting in parliament – and Joyce, who is keeping his positions and voting.

The government claims it is also confident about Canavan, while admitting the circumstances are different – not in a good way – by virtue of the fact his mother applied for his Italian citizenship, allegedly without his knowledge, and he was listed as an Italian national at the time of his election.

The realpolitik, however, is that Canavan is a senator. In the Senate, which has been hit by multiple resignations and referrals, those already politically dead and gone and the walking wounded are being accommodated so the numbers aren’t out of kilter.

And Canavan’s exit from cabinet, while inconvenient, is not a disaster, although ironically it is Joyce who is doing his former ministerial jobs of resources and northern Australia.

In the finely balanced House of Representatives the situation is precarious, and the government is certainly not going to live more dangerously than it absolutely has to.

The ConversationAnyway, the Nationals would find it intolerable if they were without their leader in cabinet for months while his fate is being decided by the court. Especially when the future of energy policy is the biggest issue before the government between now and Christmas.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hu9ay-6f0803?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

High Court to rule on whether Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealander



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Barnaby Joyce may be a New Zealand citizen.
AAP/Lukas Coch

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The government has been rocked by advice from the New Zealand government that Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce might be a citizen of that country, making him ineligible to be a federal MP.

The government is referring the case to the High Court but Malcolm Turnbull, on the basis of legal advice that Joyce’s eligibility won’t be struck down, has asked him to remain in his positions. Section 44 rules out dual citizens standing for parliament.

Joyce told the House of Representatives on Monday morning: “Last Thursday afternoon, the New Zealand High Commission contacted me to advise that, on the basis of preliminary advice from their Department of Internal Affairs which had received inquiries from the New Zealand Labour Party, they considered that I may be a citizen by descent of New Zealand.”

Joyce said he had been shocked. “Neither I, nor my parents, have ever had any reason to believe that I may be a citizen of any other country.”

Joyce was born in Tamworth in 1967 to an Australian mother. “My father, who was born in New Zealand, came to Australia in 1947 as a British subject – in fact we were all British subjects at that time,” he said.

“The concept of New Zealand and Australian citizenship was not created until 1948. Neither my parents nor I have ever applied to register me as a New Zealand citizen.” The New Zealand government had no register recognising him as a New Zealand citizen, he said.

A New Zealand government website says: “If you were born overseas and at least one of your parents is a New Zealand citizen by birth or grant, you are an NZ citizen by descent. To get yourself an NZ passport, you need to register your citizenship.”

Turnbull said the government had sought advice from the solicitor-general. “The government is satisfied that the court would not find Mr Joyce disqualified to sit in the House.

“Nonetheless, in the interest of giving the court the opportunity to clarify the application of this section the government … has decided to refer the matter to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.”

Joyce said that he had asked for the matter to be referred to the court. “Given the strength of the legal advice the government has received, the prime minister has asked that I remain deputy prime minister and continue my ministerial duties.”

Turnbull has written to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to “offer you the opportunity to nominate any Labor members or senators whose circumstances may raise questions under Section 44 of the Constitution so that the parliament can also refer these matters to the High Court for its consideration.

“There are a number of cases already referred by the Senate and so it would be helpful if all relevant matters court be heard by the court at the same time,” Turnbull wrote.

Labor has not so far had any cases of actual or possible dual nationality arise in this parliament, in contrast to the Greens, the Coalition, and One Nation.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan recently resigned from cabinet, saying his mother had signed him up, without his knowledge, as an Italian citizen. He is disputing whether this is valid. His case is before the High Court. Joyce was sworn into Canavan’s ministerial duties of resources and northern Australia.

Last week the Senate referred One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts to the court to determine whether he was a dual British citizen when he nominated. Two Greens, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, resigned from the Senate after they found they were dual citizens, of Canada and New Zealand respectively.

Turnbull said in his letter that “It is manifestly in the national interest that the High Court have the opportunity to clarify the limits on the operation of Section 44(i) of the Constitution.

“With around half of all Australians having a foreign-born parent, and with many foreign nations having citizenship laws which confer citizenship by descent, regardless of place of birth, the potential for many, possibly millions of Australians unknowingly having dual citizenship is considerable.”

The loss of Joyce would wipe out the government’s one-seat majority, pending a byelection. At the last election, Joyce held off a challenge in his seat of New England from former independent member Tony Windsor.

The opposition is calling for Joyce to stand aside.

The manager of opposition business, Tony Burke, said in the house: “How on earth can this government have somebody in the office of deputy prime minister when they don’t even know if he’s supposed to be in the parliament?

“This is a government reliant on a majority of one.

“What the house is doing right now is saying to the High Court that we are not actually sure if the government does have a majority of one.

“Saying to the High Court of Australia that we have been here for twelve months making laws with a government that may or may not be legitimate. With a parliament that may or may not be voting according to the constitution of this country,” Burke said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English confirmed Joyce’s citizenship. “Unwittingly or not, he’s a New Zealand citizen,” he said.

“These things are almost always accidental,” English said.

Shorten has told Turnbull he has no-one he wants to refer to the High Court to clarify their status. Replying to Turnbull’s letter earlier in the day, Shorten wrote: “I acknowledge your offer to nominate other members or senators to the High Court. The Labor Party has the strictest processes in place to ensure all candidates are compliant with the Constitution prior to their nomination for election. Therefore, I politely decline your office.”

In Question Time Turnbull was unequivocal that Joyce’s position would be vindicated.

“The leader of the National Party, the deputy prime minister, is qualified to sit in this house and the High Court will so hold,” he declared.

He said the government did not refer Joyce to the court because of any doubt about his position, but rather because there was a need in the public interest for the court “to clarify the operation of this section so important to the operation of our parliament”.

Labor tried unsuccessfully to gag Joyce when he was asked a question.

The ConversationThe New Zealand government has an online tool to check whether people are NZ citizens.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/hu9ay-6f0803?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Grattan on Friday: If High Court disqualifies Canavan, Joyce will be scratching for cabinet replacement



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Legal experts are unsure what the High Court may decide on Matt Canavan.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The Senate, bordering on the farcical all year, has finally descended into burlesque, with the tale of the bright young cabinet minister whose mum made him a son of her parents’ old country.

Before the strange case of the Nationals’ Matthew Canavan burst into public view, the Senate had already lost four of its number, under various parts of the Constitution’s Section 44, including the Greens’ two co-deputies within a week.

And then there’s been the media chase after One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, in pursuit of documents to back his assertion he didn’t hold British citizenship when he nominated for the Senate.

Canavan’s story of how he was signed up for Italian citizenship – unknown to him, he says – by his Australian-born mother of Italian heritage, is as bizarre as they come.

It’s anyone’s guess whether the High Court will find he’s in breach of Section 44, which rules out dual citizens standing for parliament.

There are differences here with the circumstances of the two Greens, who were born overseas and hadn’t quashed their other citizenship, making their ineligibility clearer cut. Neither chose to dispute the situation.

Legal experts are unsure what the High Court may conclude on Canavan. There are also claims and counter-claims of what one is required, or not required, to do to become Italian.

So, it is not surprising the government has decided to fight for Canavan, who has resigned as a minister while his parliamentary status is determined.

For the Nationals, the stakes are particularly high and complicated.

If Canavan were found ineligible to have been elected, there’d be a countback, with his replacement being Joanna Lindgren, a former senator who lost in 2016. Lindgren is a grand-niece of the late Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous person elected to federal parliament.

A Liberal when she was a senator, Lindgren would likely find herself in the Nationals’ partyroom.

Where she sat would not be her decision but that of the Queensland Liberal National Party. The two parties are merged in that state, though they’re sharp-elbowed bedfellows, who break into their separate tribes once in Canberra. It is understood the LNP would not allow the loss of Canavan to disrupt the present balance of numbers coming out of Queensland.

Until the court case is decided – by year’s end on the optimistic assessment – Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce is acting in Canavan’s resources and northern Australia portfolio.

This will overload Joyce, who already looks under strain, this week making injudicious comments about the alleged theft of water by irrigators. Even if Canavan survives, his immediate absence from cabinet is a blow to Joyce, because he provides policy heft.

If the case goes against Canavan, Joyce would face a dilemma in who to elevate to cabinet.

The most obvious choice, on seniority and experience, would be the only National in the outer ministry: Small Business Minister Michael McCormack. But McCormack is from New South Wales. The Nationals would be desperate to keep up their representation from Queensland, a vital state for them, and the Coalition generally, at the election.

Queenslander Keith Pitt is an assistant minister, but his critics say he’s been difficult rather than supportive in that role. Then you get to backbenchers such as senator Barry O’Sullivan, based in Toowoomba, and David Littleproud, from the regional seat of Maranoa.

Littleproud is spoken of as a man with a future, but is a newcomer. There are wildly opposite views on O’Sullivan, a one-time detective and later businessman, whose performances with Senate committee witnesses can resemble the tougher side of police interrogation. His critics think he should be bumped from the Senate ticket at the next opportunity; his admirers believe he could be cabinet material.

The High Court decision on Canavan will at least provide clarity on a more obscure aspect of the dual citizenship ban.

Inevitably, however, the slew of actual or potential victims of Section 44 has led to calls for constitutional change.

There are arguments for and against the dual citizenship prohibition but convenience should not be included. Notwithstanding the peculiar Canavan situation, surely aspiring politicians should be able to ascertain if they have a foreign citizenship.

On the question of substance, some argue that in a multicultural community there should not be a requirement to relinquish citizenship of another country. There is the counter argument – which I think is more compelling – that the single allegiance is a reasonable condition to impose on those responsible for making national decisions.

Dual citizenship could throw up perceived conflicts of interest – for example, for trade or foreign ministers.

Two other parts of the wide-ranging Section 44 claiming victims this year relate to having a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in an agreement with the Commonwealth, designed to prevent corruption and conflicts of interest, and being “under sentence, or subject to be sentenced” for an offence carrying a year or more imprisonment.

The eligibility of a House of Representatives Nationals MP, David Gillespie, an assistant minister, is being challenged in the High Court by Labor on the ground of having an indirect pecuniary interest, because of a post office located within a shopping centre owned by a company in which he is a shareholder.

In 1977 Malcolm Fraser won a change to Section 15 of the Constitution to ensure a casual Senate vacancy is filled by a member of the same party. This followed shenanigans by a couple of conservative state governments in filling vacancies in the Whitlam government’s time.

The ConversationThat change was simple and demonstrably the right thing to do. In contrast, an attempt to alter the dual citizenship ban – and indeed any other qualification rule in Section 44 – would be more contested. That, and today’s generally negative electoral mood, would likely doom any referendum.

https://www.podbean.com/media/player/axx2w-6d8662?from=site&skin=1&share=1&fonts=Helvetica&auto=0&download=0

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.