The government of Australia faces losing its parliamentary majority after it was revealed the Deputy Prime Minister could be a citizen of New Zealand. Barnaby Joyce, Deputy PM of Australia and an MP serving a rural electorate in New South Wales (NSW), on Monday referred himself to the country’s High Court after receiving advice he could hold a New Zealand-Australian dual citizenship, Xinhua news agency reported.
Under section 44(i) of the constitution, anyone who is a citizen of a country other than Australia is ineligible to be elected to parliament.
If the High Court finds Joyce is ineligible to serve, he will be forced to resign from the lower house of Australian parliament, leaving the government with 75 of 150 total seats.
Constitutional law experts on Tuesday said Joyce was in “difficulty” after New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English confirmed “unwittingly or not” Joyce was a citizen of New Zealand.
George Williams, a law expert from the University of NSW, said the only way Joyce could win in the High Court was if it applied a “generous interpretation” of the constitutional requirements.
“On the face of it, (Joyce) is disqualified,” Williams said.
Antony Green, Australia’s leading election forecaster, said if he was disqualified, he could quickly renounce his New Zealand citizenship and run again in the New England by-election that would be called.
“You’d imagine the government would call that as quickly as possible after the court judgement, which would make it harder for anybody to run a campaign,” Green said.
Joyce narrowly won the seat in the 2016 Australian election.
It was revealed on Tuesday the question over Joyce’s eligibility came about after members of the opposition Australian Labor Party asked members of New Zealand Labor to investigate whether Joyce would be a citizen due to his father being born in New Zealand.
“Clearly the Labor Party are involved in a conspiracy using a foreign government, in this case New Zealand, to try and bring down the Australian government,” Chris Pyne, Australia’s Defence Industry Minister, said.
Pyne said the government would take action to refer any Labor MPs with questionable status to the High Court at the same time as Joyce.
“The Labor Party needs to produce the evidence or the government will obviously consider its options.”