It is difficult not to crumple with mirth at the debacle that is Barnaby Joyce.
When senators Waters and Ludlam resigned from parliament because of their dual citizenship, Barnaby Joyce said: “Unfortunately, that’s the law. It’s like if you’re driving down the road without a licence and you get pulled over, well you’re in a spot of bother. They were members of parliament, but it’s quite clear on (sic) Section 44, you can’t be a member of parliament and have dual citizenship – it’s black and white. I don’t think it is [time to have a look at Section 44 of the Constitution], I think you’ve just got to do your homework and make sure you’re not a citizen of two countries when you stand for parliament. Now Larissa [Waters] said she believed that was not the case, and I’m sure that would be the outcome for Scott Ludlam, but unfortunately, ignorance is not an excuse”1.
Now Barnaby has been confirmed by the New Zealand Government to have New Zealand citizenship by descent from his father who was born there. NZ Prime Minister Bill English stated: “Unwittingly, or not, he’s a New Zealand citizen”2. The irony is exquisite.
As Barnaby says, ‘ignorance is not an excuse’, but this apparently does not apply if you are a member of the Coalition, and this seems to be the line that Barnaby will be using in front of the justices of the High Court. Presumably, Senator Canavan3 will run a similar ignorance line, only his will be a variant of the Shane Warne defence (it was Mum)3.
This would have been enough comic relief, but there was more to come. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that Bill Shorten “sought to use the new Zealand Parliament to undermine the Australian Government; Bill Shorten has sought to use a foreign political party to raise serious allegations in a foreign parliament, designed to undermine confidence in the Australian Government. Bill Shorten has serious questions to answer. This is highly unethical at least, but more importantly, puts at risk the relationship between the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government. Bill Shorten must reveal who he put up to this dirty task and the details of his urging of a foreign political party to be involved in efforts to undermine the Australian Government”4. It is a long time since I have heard such abject drivel. Bishop makes it sound like a le Carré novel, when it was only someone in the Labor Party asking, by proxy, a question of the New Zealand Government; a question that Barnaby Joyce himself should have asked. It was a simple way of finding out a fact about Joyce’s citizenship, hardly something worthy of all this foot-stamping and arm-waving talk of collusion that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Defence Industry, Christopher Pyne, and now the Murdoch press are running. It just goes to show how desperate the government is. Even worse, Bishop then said that she would find it hard to trust a New Zealand Labour government if it had any role in trying to bring down the Turnbull Government. Given that New Zealand is facing an election on September 23rd, and it is possible that Labour will be in government, that was a stupid thing for Bishop to say. But even more bizarrely, after comments by Jacinda Ardern, leader of the NZ parliamentary Labour Party, that Bishop’s claims were “false” and “highly regrettable”, Malcolm Turnbull stated that Bill Shorten was “willing to interfere in the political system of a foreign country”, and was “entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power”5. My sides are hurting now.
This ‘undermining’ of the Australian Government was effortlessly accomplished by the government itself, because it was lax in its scrutiny of potential candidates. All the New Zealand Government did was to provide confirmation of Joyce’s dual citizenship. Hardly an ‘allegation’ and hardly a ‘conspiracy’ as the silly Bishop would have us believe.
The reason the government are flapping around frantically is because, while Canavan, Ludlam, Waters and Roberts are in the Senate and will be simply replaced by members of their respective parties, Joyce is in the House of Representatives and if he is deemed to have been ineligible to stand, then the government will have to face a by-election for his seat. He has now relinquished his NZ citizenship, so, presumably will stand in that by-election. However, given the government’s parlous Abbottesque standing in opinion polls, there is a distinct possibility that Joyce would lose. If he did lose, the Government would then be a minority government.
As if all that was not sufficient: Conservatives hate what they term ‘an activist High Court’, where the justices interpret laws and the constitution in spirit rather than letter. Former Prime Minister John Howard and former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer both criticised the High Court for its judicial activism. Now the Coalition are depending on it for the survival of Barnaby Joyce. The irony is exquisite. Again.