Australia’s deputy prime minister might have to resign from his government post, after it was found that he holds dual citizenship — a status that disqualifies one from public office.
Barnaby Joyce said he is working to renounce the New Zealand citizenship granted to him by virtue of his birth in Australia to a New Zealand-born father and an Australian mother. New Zealand regards him as a “citizen by descent.”
Joyce, though, said he will not resign his opposition in the House of Representatives, where the coalition government of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has a one-seat majority, and expects to be cleared by Australia’s High Court.
Joyce is the leader of the National Party, a coalition member of Turnbull’s Liberal Party.
Joyce is one of several Australian politicians found recently to have citizenship in Australia and in another country, which bars them from holding political office. Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters resigned last month over their citizenship status. Two others, Matt Canavan and Malcolm Roberts, will have their cases reviewed by the High Court.
Joyce said he was contacted last week by the New Zealand High Commission, the country’s diplomatic department, and informed he may be a New Zealand citizen by descent.
“Needless to say, I was shocked about this,” Joyce said Monday. “Neither I, nor my parents, have ever had any reason to believe I may be a citizen of another country. I was born in Tamworth (Australia), just as my mother and my great-grandma was born there 100 years earlier.
“My father was born in New Zealand and came to Australia in 1947 as a British subject. In fact we were all British subjects at that time. However, to provide clarification to this very important area of the law, for this and future parliaments, I have asked the government to refer the matter [to the court].”
The rule, Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, forbids any person “who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power” to serve in Australia’s Senate or House of Representatives. While this is generally interpreted as a denial of opportunity for those with dual citizenship to run for office, Turnbull has asked the court for clarification.
In a letter seeking the support of opposition leader Bill Shorten, Turnbull noted that, “With around half of all Australians having a foreign-born parent … the potential for many, possibly millions of Australians unknowingly having dual citizenship is considerable. The Australian people must have confidence in our political system and resolving any uncertainty is vital.”
If Joyce is ruled ineligible to serve in parliament, it would force a by-election, possibly threatening Turnbull’s majority and hold on power, although a coalition of minor parties could be organized to work with his Labor Party.