Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce may be a dual citizen.
Whilst the majority of regular Australians probably don’t care about such an innocuous detail, this fact shapes as an enormous issue for the Government as it may disqualify Joyce from being a member of the House of Representatives. If this were to occur, the Government would lose its one-seat majority and effectively its ability to govern the country.
Section 44 of the Australian Constitution sets out that any person who is a dual citizen “shall be incapable of being chosen…as a member of the House of Representatives”.
The intention of this provision is clear; people whose allegiances may be with another nation should not be allowed to serve as a member of parliament and have control over of Australian laws and policy. However, the Constitution was drafted at a time when globalisation and multiculturalism were essentially unheard of, and nations were still vigorously fighting for territory and sovereignty the world across.
Since that time, our concept of what it is to be “Australian” has changed significantly, as is evidenced by the number of people who currently sit in parliament from a range of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
The situation with Joyce should serve as an opportunity to identify a shortcoming within our Constitution that fails to consider the ever-changing context of Australian society.
Whether you love him or hate him, Joyce was born in Tamworth, raised in his seat of New England, and has never in any way, shape or form acknowledged any potential citizenship of New Zealand. If he is a Kiwi, it is by default and has had zero practical implications on his life or his political career.
This should also be considered in the context of a range of international laws and treaties that, to some degree, see Australia and New Zealand as an extension of each other in terms of the bilateral freedoms our nation grants to each other’s citizens given our proximity to each other.
The matter has been referred to the High Court for determination, however if Joyce is expelled from the parliament, this should not be lauded as a victory for those who oppose the current Government. If the Government were to lose its majority, it would come on the back of Gillard knifing Rudd, Rudd knifing Gillard and Turnbull knifing Abbott serving only to add fuel to the fire that is arguably the most tumultuous and ineffective decade in Australian political history.
However juicy the headline, this can’t be good for the country, no matter your political persuasion.