The Turnbull government has been plunged further into crisis over dual citizenship with confirmation that Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealand citizen and may not be eligible to sit in Parliament.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Bill English confirmed that “unwittingly or not”, Mr Joyce is automatically a citizen of the nation because his father was born there.
Early on Monday, Mr Joyce revealed he was “shocked” to learn he may be a New Zealand citizen by descent, and said he had referred himself to the High Court.
If Mr Joyce fell victim to the same rule that forced the resignations of the Greens’ Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, it would spark a by-election in his New South Wales seat of New England.
If the Nationals lost that by-election, the Turnbull government would lose its parliamentary majority.
‘He’s one of us’: NZ
The news of Mr Joyce’s dual citizenship may make him ineligible to stand for federal election and raises the possibility of the Deputy Prime Minister having to stand down and force a by-election in his NSW seat of New England.
New Zealand internal affairs minister Peter Dunne also confirmed that Mr Joyce’s father was a New Zealand citizen and had, therefore, passed citizenship on to his son.
“It’s automatically passed on, I don’t know whether he (Mr Joyce) knew or not,” Mr Dunne said.
“He says he didn’t know, he says he was under the belief his father had renounced the New Zealand citizenship.
“But the fact is it is all irrelevant – if he was eligible to receive the citizenship at the time, under our legislation he does, regardless of his subsequent circumstances,” Mr Dunne said.
‘I’m staying’: Joyce
Mr Joyce said he would stay on as Deputy PM due to legal advice that suggested he had a strong case.
“The government has taken legal advice from the solicitor-general,” he said.
“On that basis the government is of the firm view that I would not be found to be disqualified by the operation of Section 44i of the Constitution from serving as the Member for New England.
“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.”
Mr Joyce dropped the bombshell at the beginning of Parliament on Monday morning.
“Needless to say, I was shocked to receive this information,” he said
“I’ve always been an Australian citizen, born in Tamworth, just as my mother and my great-grandmother was born there 100 years earlier.
“Neither I, nor my parents, have had any reason to believe that I may be a citizen of any other country.
“I was born in Australia in 1967 to an Australian mother. I think I am fifth generation.”
The Prime Minister wrote to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Monday asking him to nominate any Labor MPs that may also hold dual citizenship.
Labor has maintained its candidates were thoroughly vetted and is confident no Opposition MPs have citizenship questions to answer.
“Labor has in place a very vigorous process when we nominate of providing evidence that we’re eligible to nominate,” Opposition frontbencher Anthony Albanese said.
The Greens and One Nation have called for an audit of all MPs in the wake of ongoing questions over the eligibility of a number of parliamentarians.
Nationals Senator Matt Canavan was forced to resign from Cabinet and defend his eligibility in the High Court after he revealing his mother has signed up from Italian citizenship without his knowledge.
One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts is also facing a High Court battle over concerns he was a British citizenship at the time he nominated.
Liberal MP Julia Banks has also faced questions about whether she is a Greek citizen as a result of her Greek parents, though she maintains this is not the case.