Barnaby Joyce’s local party faithful say they are primed for a fight if a High Court ruling on Friday yields what they dread – disqualification from Parliament for their leader and a by-election nightmare for the Turnbull government.
As Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull waved away calls to sack embattled Employment Minister Michaelia Cash on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Joyce made a final appearance in Question Time before the court rules on the eligibility of the seven MPs and Senators dubbed the ‘Citizenship Seven’.
Government ministers spent most of Thursday defending Senator Cash, who faced calls for her resignation after she conceded that, contrary to her initial denials, one of her aides had tipped the media off about Tuesday’s dramatic police raids on the offices of Bill Shorten’s former union, the Australian Workers Union.
Labor’s fury hit its peak during Question Time on Thursday afternoon when the opposition demanded the Prime Minister sack Senator Cash.
“How are your ministers meant to be running the country when they can’t even run their office?” Mr Shorten barked at the PM.
But with Friday’s court ruling soon set to dominate the news cycle, Labor failed to force the hand of Mr Turnbull, nor win the support of two crossbench MPs, Cathy McGowan and NXT’s Rebekha Sharkie.
Cash won’t stand aside
Fronting a parliamentary hearing on Thursday morning, Senator Cash described her aide, David De Garis, as “brave” for revealing he had earlier misled her.
She would not be drawn on her conversations with Mr Turnbull on Thursday morning and when asked if she had considered resigning, she replied: “No, I have not.”
Senator Cash also revealed she had written to the union watchdog that asked the AFP to conduct the raids, the Registered Organisations Commission (ROC), suggesting it refer the leak to the federal police.
An AFP spokesman told AAP the agency was investigating the “alleged unauthorised disclosure of information” about the raids.
AFP officers executed the warrants, which had been sought by the ROC to ensure documents weren’t tampered with or destroyed.
When the court hands down its citizenship decision at 2.15pm on Friday, the worst-case scenario for the government is that Mr Joyce, Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash and former Nationals cabinet minister Matt Canavan are all ruled ineligible, immediately robbing the Coalition of three senior figures.
Away from Canberra, in Mr Joyce’s rural New South Wales electorate of New England, National Party faithful were ready to “swing into action” if Friday’s High Court decision goes against Mr Joyce.
The Nationals expect the by-election campaign to go national, with lobby groups such as GetUp! – which backed Mr Joyce’s nemesis Tony Windsor last year – likely to campaign against the Coalition.
Primed for a fight
Russell Webb, a family friend of Mr Joyce, described Section 44 of the Constitution – which says dual nationals are ineligible to serve in Parliament – as “archaic” and “out of kilter with where we are as a nation”.
He hoped the court would find “a way to keep him (Mr Joyce) in his job”.
“If by some misfortune we do have to go to a by-election … all of the people involved in the conservative side of politics will be ready to work so the result goes our way,” Mr Webb, also the Nationals’ New England party branch chair, told The New Daily.
Mr Joyce claimed the seat with 58.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote last year and would be expected to win again.
But although the government will have the numbers on confidence and supply, a by-election period would allow Labor to cause chaos in Parliament.
Mr Joyce spent much of Question Time signing a series of documents from his briefcase and appeared to lack his usual vigour at the dispatch box.
When he failed to complete an answer to a Dorothy Dixer question in the allotted time, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten waved him back to his seat.
As he sat down, Mr Joyce charged: “You’re a bit over confident” at Mr Shorten amid cries of “the last time” from the Labor benches.
The citizenship seven politicians are: Mr Joyce, Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash, Nationals senator Matt Canavan, One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, Senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens’ Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam.