This is the story of how an Australian Deputy Prime Minister nearly lost his job (and the Australian Government)because he held dual citizenship by virtue of also being a New Zealand citizen. It is also the story of how those findings caused the worst diplomatic storm between N.Z and Australia in decades.
On Monday 14 August 2017, the New Zealand Minister of Internal Affairs, Peter Dunne received advice that Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is a New Zealand citizen. Mr Joyce’s father appears to have been or became a New Zealand citizen and got his then young son citizenship at the same time.
Mr Joyce is just the latest in a series of Australian politicians to have been found to hold dual citizenship. Two others have also been forced to quit, after finding out that they hold dual citizenship with another country, thereby rendering them ineligible to be an elected representative in Australia. Mr Joyce has refused to stand down after renouncing his citizenship of New Zealand yesterday, but not before being subject to a barrage of questions from the Australian opposition parties that gave his Government an appearance of being desperate.
And it was. If Mr Joyce had been made to resign, the entire Australian Government would have been in immediate danger of collapsing. As it is, one of its key allies Bob Katter has withdrawn from his Confidence and Supply agreement with the Australian Government, thereby meaning all Liberal representatives would have to be present to pass legislation or carry out any other Government business requiring a vote.
Mr Joyce and his Government colleagues were not the only ones in the gun. On this side of the Tasman Sea, it emerged that a New Zealand Labour M.P. had been contacted by Australian Labor Leader Bill Shorten. Mr Shorten asked New Zealand Labour Member of Parliament Chris Hipkins if he would ask two question in the New Zealand House of Representatives. The purpose of this was to determine one way of the other whether Mr Joyce is actually holding dual citizenship in both New Zealand and Australia.
The response was one of fury from Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. Ms Bishop accused New Zealand Labour and Australian Labor of conspiring to topple the Liberal Government of Malcolm Turnbull. But Ms Bishop went one step further and effectively suggested how New Zealand and Australia work in the future could depend on who is elected on 23 September 2017.
To be honest, I have never heard an Australian Government Minister, let alone of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s seniority lay into New Zealand so overtly. It is one thing for the Australian Government to call out New Zealand politicians, but to go so far as to say that her Government would find it very difficult to work with a New Zealand Labour-led Government is unprecedented.
New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern addressed New Zealand media shortly before 1800 hours N.Z. time yesteday regarding Labours involvement. Some of them gave the appearance of being keen for blood to spill or for Ms Ardern to say something silly. Every question following her press briefing seemed to get asked in about four different ways and each time the answer was the same. Ms Ardern made it clear that she only found out Mr Joyce’s citizenship issue when it appeared in the media; that Australia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs is most welcome to have a talk to her with regards to what was said about finding it hard to work with Labour should it be elected.
Mr Joyce might no longer be a New Zealand citizen, but this is has caused further possibly irreparable damage to the Australian Government of Malcolm Turnbull. It does not yet seem to have dented either the Australian Labor Party, which consistently polls better than the incumbent Government. And although it has tested Ms Ardern, she seems to have gotten away as well – much to Ms Bishop’s probable chagrin.