A Fairfax journalist has the astonishing backstory to how he provoked the Barnaby Joyce dual citizenship saga

Barnaby Joyce. Photo:Stefan Postles/Getty Images

If the Nationals lose their leader and nation its deputy prime minister, then Fairfax Media’s health and industrial relations correspondent, Adam Gartrell, will be the lightning rod for any anger Coalition supporters will feel about the dual citizenship saga that’s landed Joyce in hot water today.

Australian-born Joyce announced in parliament today that he could potentially be a New Zealand citizen by descent and has referred the issue to the High Court.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said 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 Gartrell has just revealed why the government suddenly finds itself in such an embarrassing position, especially after the PM accused the Greens of “incredible sloppiness” and “extraordinary negligence” following the resignation of two senators last month who fell foul of section 44 of the Constitution.

The journalist had a tip-off about Joyce last Monday and admits his “first reaction was to laugh”, in this account of what happened next.

He sent Joyce’s media adviser an email titled: “Is the boss a Kiwi?” that day and was told everything had been sorted years ago.

But Gartrell kept digging, and as he recounts: “…found a number of places where the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) said citizenship by descent was automatic, and registration was only needed if you wanted a passport”.

And last Thursday, he wrote to Joyce’s office again, having spoken to three constitutional experts.

“Our advice is that any person born to a Kiwi father between 1949 and 1978 automatically became an NZ citizen by descent. There is a further process you can go through to register that citizenship – the process that confers the rights such as passports etc. But even if that citizenship is never registered, the person is still an NZ citizen,” Gartrell’s email said.

That’s when alarm bells started ringing in the government and the matter went to the new solicitor-general for advice.

Fairfax gave Joyce the weekend to respond, and then on Monday morning, Gartrell told Joyce’s office they were going to publish what they’d discovered. Less than two hours later, the deputy PM stunned everyone when he told Parliament about his concerns and how he would refer the matter to the High Court, scooping the paper’s scoop.

Read Gartrell’s account of how events unfolded here.

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