Deputy prime minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has told parliament today that he may be a New Zealand citizen by descent.
The Australian-born member for New England, whose father is New Zealand-born, says he is referring his eligibility to sit in parliament to to the High Court, and will remain Deputy PM in the meantime.
New Zealand’s internal affairs minister, Peter Dunne, subsequently confirmed that Joyce is a New Zealand citizen under his country’s 1948 Citizenship Act.
Here is Joyce’s statement to Parliament this morning:
Last Thursday afternoon the New Zealand High Commission contacted me to advise that on the basis of preliminary advice from the Dept of Internal Affairs, which received inquiries from the New Zealand Labour Party, they considered that I may be a citizen by decent of New Zealand.
Needless to say, I was shocked to receive this information.
I have always been an Australian citizen – born in Tamworth – just as my mother and great grandmother were born there 100 years earlier.
Neither I nor my parents have ever had any reason to believe that I may be a citizen of any other country.
I was born in Australia in 1967 to an Australian mother – I think I am 5th generation.
My father was born in New Zealand and came to Australia in 1947 as a British subject – in fact we were all British subjects at that time.
The concept of New Zealand and Australian citizenship was not created until 1948.
Neither my parents nor I have ever applied to register me as a New Zealand citizen. The New Zealand Government has no register recognising me as an New Zealand citizen.
The Government has taken legal advice from the Solicitor-General – on the basis of the Solicitor-General’s advice, the Government is of the firm view that I would not be found to be disqualified by the operation of s44(1) of the Constitution from serving as the Member for New England.
However to provide clarification to this very important area of the law for this and future Parliaments I have asked the Government to refer the matter in accordance with s376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act to the High Court sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.
Given the strength of the legal advice the Government has received, the Prime Minister has asked that I remain Deputy Prime Minister and continue my Ministerial duties.
Joyce joins of a growing list of Australian politicians who have their careers hanging in the balance of the court’s decision, with the case of Queensland One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts, who was a British citizen, also heading to the High Court, along with former Turnbull government minister Matt Canavan, who stepped down from Cabinet after discovering that his mother registered the 36-year-old Australian-born Queensland senator as an Italian citizen a decade ago, but did not tell him.
Two Greens senators resigned from parliament last month after discovering they were dual citizens because of their birthplace.
Section 44 of the Constitution bars people with citizenship in a country other than Australia from standing for election.
Last week the Senate referred the election of Canavan, along with Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, who have both resigned, to the High Court to determine their eligibility.
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote to opposition leader Bill Shorten today asking if he wanted to refer any Labor MPs to the High Court too “in the national interest”.
“I am writing to offer you the opportunity to nominate any Labor members or senators whose circumstances may raise questions under Section 44 of the constitution so that the parliament can also refer these matters to the High Court for its consideration,” the PM wrote
“There are a number of cases already referred by the Senate and so it would be helpful if all relevant matters could be heard by the Court at the same time.”
Shorten has previously said that the party is confidence there are no doubts over any of its MPs.
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