Labor called for Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce to stand aside while the matter of his dual New Zealand citizenship is being considered by the High Court, citing Senator Matt Canavan’s case, who stood down from the cabinet when he discovered he may have Italian citizenship.
In July, Senator Canavan stood down as the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia – portfolios which were ironically picked up by Mr Joyce.
However, Mr Joyce will remain as Deputy Prime Minister and keep his other portfolios, which include Agriculture and Water.
“On the basis of the solicitor-general’s advice, the government is of the firm view that I would not be found to be disqualified by the operation of section 44 of the constitution from serving as the member of New England,” Mr Joyce said.
Labor’s Manager of Opposition Business, Tony Burke, called on Mr Joyce to follow Senator Canavan’s example.
“How on earth could this Parliament be claiming to have a majority government, relying on the vote of someone they don’t know whether or not he has been lawfully elected?” Mr Burke said.
“How on earth can this government have someone in the office of Deputy Prime Minister, when they don’t even know if he is meant to be a member of Parliament?
“And if the Minister for Resources was able to stand aside, even though he has the attorney-general beside him, claiming that he had a strong case, then why on earth is ‘strong case’ the defence for the Deputy Prime Minister?”
Anne Twomey from the University of Sydney believed Mr Joyce’s case resembled that of Senator Canavan, who was given Italian citizenship by descent after his mother made an application on his behalf.
“We need to know whether the mere fact that you are descended from someone and that gives you the right to do something in relation to foreign citizenship – like obtaining a passport – is sufficient to trigger this,” she said.
Former independent New England MP Tony Windsor, who challenged Mr Joyce for his seat of New England at the 2016 election, wouldn’t rule out another attempt if the citizenship fiasco triggered a by-election.
“It’s not front of mind but you never rule anything out in life,” Mr Windsor said.