NZ takes hits in Aussie brawling
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.