The High Court has ruled Barnaby Joyce, the deputy prime minister, ineligible for parliament because he has New Zealand citizenship.
Joyce sits in the House of Representatives where the Coalition government only has a majority of one.
The ruling means he will have to fight a byelection. Joyce would be expected to win but in the meantime the Coalition is down to 75 seats in a 150 member Parliament.
Independent MP Cathy McGowan has confirmed she will continue to supply a confidence vote to the government.
Asked if the Coalition could survive a no-confidence motion in parliament, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “We have a majority of members on the floor.”
The Coalition can also count on the casting vote of the Speaker, Tony Smith.
However, Shadow Minister for Transport Anthony Albanese said the Coalition had “lost its capacity to govern”. Labor would be fielding a candidate in the byelection. “He (Joyce) should never have been there, he wasn’t properly elected. There is no Member for New England,” said Albanese.
Every law made in parliament since October last year is now under a cloud, according to Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek.
“All those decisions are now, perhaps, subject to legal challenge,” she said.
Plibersek said there had been many close votes in parliament including whether to have a royal commission into the banks, which was lost by one vote.
Joyce broke the law and as a result, we now have a minority government. Turnbull should've stood him aside, terrible judgement once again.
— Bill Shorten (@billshortenmp) October 27, 2017
Joyce called a media conference and apologised to the voters in his seat of New England for the need to hold a byelection.
However, he said he wasn’t going to “cry in my beer”.
“I’d like to apologise for the inconvenience … of the by-election,” he said, adding that it was likely by December 2.
“I respect the verdict of the court … we live in a marvelous democracy.
“I was always apprehensive… I was always prepared for this outcome.
“It’s a pretty simple story: we are off to a bylection.
“I put myself forward to the people of New England as their candidate.”
Answering questions, Joyce said: “I had no reason to believe I was a citizen of any other country but Australia.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was due to leave on an overseas trip today. Its is believed that Julie Bishop, the foreign minister, will now take on the role of acting prime minister.
Five of the so-called citizenship seven MPs have been disqualified for being dual citizens.
The High Court, in its unanimous decision, also ruled ineligible senators Malcolm Roberts of One Nation, Larissa Waters of the Greens, Fiona Nash of the Nationals and Scott Ludlam of the Greens. Their positions in the Senate have been declared vacant.
The National Party’s Matt Canavan and South Australian Nick Xenophon are eligible. Xenophon is leaving the Senate in any case to return to state politics in South Australia.
The court was called on to interpret Section 44 of the Constitution which prevents dual citizens from being a member of parliament.
The federal government argued in court that those who had no idea they were foreign citizens should not be required to renounce their citizenship.
In the end the High Court made its decisions by looking at the laws of foreign powers.
The court ruled: “Whether a person has the status of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power
necessarily depends upon the law of the foreign power. That is so because it is only the law of the foreign power that can be the source of the status of citizenship or of the rights and duties involved in that status.”
The seven parliamentarians in question:
- Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister, National Party Member for New England. He automatically became a New Zealand citizen because his father was born there.
- Senator Fiona Nash, Deputy Leader of the National Party. Her father was born in the UK, making her a citizen by descent.
- Senator Matt Canavan, a National Party senator for Queensland. He says his mother registered him as an Italian citizen.
- Senator Malcolm Roberts, A One Nation senator for Queensland. He is British by descent because his father was born in the UK.
- Senator Nick Xenophon, Senator for South Australia and Leader of the Nick Xenophon Team. His father was born in Cyprus when it was a British colony.
- Scott Ludlam, the now former Greens senator for Western Australia. He was born in New Zealand which automatically gives him NZ citizenship. He is a naturalised Australian citizen.
- Larissa Waters, now former Greens senator for Queensland. She was born in Canada to Australian parents.
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