NZ takes hits in Aussie brawl­ing

The Wellingtonian - - Front Page - GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

Strange to re­port in 2017, but the Aus­tralian Con­sti­tu­tion still lists New Zealand along­side New South Wales, Queens­land, Tas­ma­nia etc as one of the ‘‘colonies’’ that can ap­ply for state­hood sta­tus within Aus­tralia, any time they choose. Thanks but no thanks, mate. If any­thing, the re­cent scan­dal over the dual cit­i­zen­ship of Aus­tralia’s deputy PM Barn­aby Joyce has shone a use­ful spot­light on just how quaintly our Aussie neigh­bours tend to re­gard us.

Thanks to his fa­ther be­ing born here, Joyce au­to­mat­i­cally be­came a New Zealand cit­i­zen. Alas for him, the Aus­tralian Con­sti­tu­tion for­bids any­one with dual cit­i­zen­ship from stand­ing for Par­lia­ment, thereby po­ten­tially in­val­i­dat­ing Joyce as an MP, and wip­ing out the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment’s one-seat ma­jor­ity in the lower house. Re­port­edly, when news of Joyce’s prob­lems first broke, there were ‘‘baa-ing’’ noises and calls of ‘‘Do a haka, mate’’ from the op­po­si­tion benches.

In des­per­a­tion, the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment has painted this whole af­fair as a trea­sonous plot dreamed up by the Aussie La­bor op­po­si­tion, work­ing in ca­hoots with New Zealand Labourmp Chris Hip­kins. With a straight face, Aussie For­eign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop even claimed that Aus­tralia would find it hard to trust a Labour gov­ern­ment here in fu­ture, should New Zealan­ders hap­pen to elect one in Septem­ber. This in­spired Aussie Labormp Tony Burke to snark­ily ask that if Bishop couldn’t work with New Zealan­ders, how did she plan to work with her own deputy PM?

Amid the hi­lar­ity and the pos­tur­ing, In­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Pe­ter Dunne has been a quiet voice of rea­son on this is­sue. It was Dunne who con­firmed that un­wit­tingly or oth­er­wise, Joyce was a New Zealand cit­i­zen by birth, un­less he had taken steps to re­nounce his cit­i­zen­ship, which he ap­par­ently hadn’t. It was Dunne who clar­i­fied that it had been Fair­fax me­dia in­quiries that kick-started this af­fair, not Hip­kins. More­over, as Dunne help­fully pointed out, the rel­e­vant le­gal is­sue was Joyce’s cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus when he was elected, not his state of mind, or his in­ten­tions.

Ul­ti­mately, the ‘‘black and white let­ter’’ of the law in the Aus­tralian Con­sti­tu­tion would prob­a­bly de­ter­mine whether Joyce had ever been a le­git­i­mate MP. Only a burst of ju­di­cial ac­tivism – that put his in­ten­tions into the frame – could save him.

Labour’s Jacinda Ardern han­dled the first in­ter­na­tional flap un­der her lead­er­ship with the kind of steely aplomb for­merly as­so­ci­ated with He­len Clark. While chastis­ing Hip­kins for fil­ing writ­ten par­lia­men­tary ques­tions on the is­sue, Ardern called out Bishop for the ‘‘false claims’’ she’d made about the Labour Party’s in­volve­ment.

Joyce’s fate has hinged on whether he’d taken ‘‘rea­son­able steps’’ to clar­ify his cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus, given that he knew his fa­ther was born here, and that this might carry cer­tain rights, by de­scent. Sim­i­lar dual cit­i­zen­ship cases in­volv­ing MPS have been ar­gued be­fore the Aussie courts since 1992. Only a month ago – when this same con­sti­tu­tional trap snared sev­eral op­po­si­tion MPS – Joyce had been happy to claim that their prob­lems had been en­tirely self-in­flicted. Sim­i­larly, the Turn­bull gov­ern­ment should be blam­ing this de­ba­cle on Joyce – and not on Chris Hip­kins, or any other New Zealan­der.

‘‘The re­cent scan­dal ... has shone a use­ful spot­light on just how quaintly our Aussie neigh­bours tend to re­gard us.’’

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