When the Greens lost two senators in a week last month because they fell foul of the Australian Constitution, which forbids dual citizens from being elected to parliament, Barnaby Joyce warned against “throwing stones”.
But prime minister Malcolm Turnbull didn’t hold back, saying the Greens were guilty of “incredible sloppiness” and “extraordinary negligence”.
Today the PM finds the future of his own deputy in doubt because, like former Greens senator Scott Ludlam, who resigned last month, he may be a New Zealand citizen.
The cases are slightly different – Joyce is Australian-born to a New Zealand father. Ludlam was born in Palmerston North and moved to Western Australia when he was aged 3.
But Ludlam only discovered he was a dual citizen last month before he stepped down, saying “this was my error, something I should have checked when I first nominated for preselection in 2006”.
A week later, Queensland Greens senator Larissa Waters also resigned. She was born in Winnipeg, Canada, to Australian parents, left as an 11-month-old baby and has never been back. But the Canadian law that applied when she was born, that she had to chose Canadian citizenship when she turned 21, was changed a week after her birth and she needed to renounce her Canadian citzenship.
“I discovered something I thought wasn’t possible and I’m taking responsibility,” she said announcing her resignation.
The prime minister had little sympathy when asked about it on Channel Nine.
“It is pretty amazing, isn’t it, that you’ve had two out of nine Greens senators who didn’t realise that they were citizens of another country. And it shows incredible sloppiness on their part,” Turnbull said.
“You know, when you nominate for parliament, there is actually a question. You’ve got to address that Section 44 question, you’ve got to tick the box and confirm that you’re not a citizen of another country. So, it is … it’s extraordinary negligence on their part.”
Liberal senator James Paterson was equally scathing, berating the Greens on Twitter because they “can’t manage basic admin… which is extremely straightforward to comply with”.
It’s an entirely reasonable prohibition which is extremely straightforward to comply with https://t.co/u7FQylmHzS
— James Paterson (@SenPaterson) July 18, 2017
Here’s Patterson’s full spray:
A fortnight after their comments, a government minister, Matt Canavan, resigned from the Cabinet, because of doubts over his citizenship status.
Canavan’s Australian-born mother has Italian heritage, and when she took Italian citizenship in 2006, she also registered other members of her family, including her adult son, who was registered as an Italian resident abroad in 2007. The matter has been referred to the High Court.
Today, Barnaby Joyce, announced that he’d been told by the New Zealand High Commission that “they considered that I may be a citizen by descent of New Zealand”.
Joyce’s Kiwi-born father came to Australia in 1947 as a British subject.
“The New Zealand Government has no register recognising me as a New Zealand citizen,” Joyce told parliament today.
But his case will also be referred to the High Court for adjudication, alongside the eligibility of Indian-born One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, who held a British passport, plus the Canavan, Ludlam and Waters cases.
Turnbull said today that following advice from the solicitor general, “the government is satisfied that the court would not find Mr Joyce disqualified to sit in the House”.
But the Nationals leader can take some comfort from his own wise advice just three weeks ago over what happened to the Greens.
“You’ve got to be really careful if you start throwing stones when something was an honest oversight, because you bet your life the stone will come back and hit you,” Joyce said.
In hindsight today, the PM may be wishing he’d listened to his Coalition colleague.