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Australia’s Deputy PM, 4 Senators Disqualified From Parliament

  • Phil Mercer

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce sits in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Oct. 25, 2017.

Australia’s deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has been disqualified from parliament because he had dual citizenship at the time of the last election.

And he’s not alone. Australia’s High Court has ruled that four other politicians were also wrongly elected because they held British, New Zealand and Canadian citizenship.

Australia’s constitution bans subjects or citizens of foreign powers’ from sitting in federal parliament. And ignorance has proved to be no defense in the case of five members of Australia’s so-called “Citizenship Seven.”

All seven politicians had said that at the time of last year’s election they did not know they were dual nationals. The most notable casualty is Joyce. His disqualification has cost the center-right government its one-seat majority in Australia’s lower house of parliament.

Turnbull coalition

That left Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s center-right coalition a minority government. Turnbull’s Liberal Party is the senior party in a coalition with the smaller National Party, which Joyce led.

Turnbull must now win the support of one of three independent lawmakers to keep his minority government afloat, with two sitting weeks of parliament left until it recesses for the year.

Joyce says he will fight on. He has renounced his New Zealand citizenship and will now face a by-election, which he is expected to win.

“I respect the verdict of the court,” he said. “We live in a marvelous democracy. I was always prepared for this outcome, so I do not actually stand here totally surprised. I always expect this was going to be a tough game.”

But laws that Joyce helped to pass as Australia’s agriculture minister could face legal challenges.

Among the other leading parliamentarians to be disqualified was Fiona Nash, the deputy leader of the National Party, the junior partner in Australia’s coalition government. Her place in the upper house, the Senate, is expected to go to a coalition colleague.

No constitutional change likely

Australia’s ban on dual nationals holding federal office is a provision dating back to the 1900s and was designed to prevent divided loyalties among MPs.

Anne Twomey, a professor at the Sydney University Law School, says that part of the constitution is unlikely to change.

“I do not see any real appetite for it,” she said. “It is not the type of thing you will have people marching on the streets for. The reality is that this issue can be easily sorted by parties just having strict vetting procedures in relation to their candidates. We do not really need to change the constitution to fix it. There is not a pressing underlying issue, I do not think.”

Two other MPs have been cleared by judges of any wrongdoing and their parliamentary careers will continue.

Joyce will attempt to win back his seat, and restore the government’s slender majority in a by-election Dec. 2.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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