The question over the legitimacy of the parliamentary position of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce engulfed the Turnbull government on Tuesday, threatening its threadbare grip on power.
The New Zealand government was also dragged into the controversy with Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop accusing the Labor parties on both sides of the Tasman of outright colluding to bring down the Turnbull government.
On Monday, Mr Joyce acknowledged that he was indeed technically a New Zealand citizen as well as Australian, by virtue of the fact that his father was born there.
It may mean he is unable to maintain his seat in parliament, according to section 44 of the Australian Constitution, and he has asked the High Court to look into the matter.
If it is determined that Mr Joyce is ineligible to sit in parliament, the government will no longer hold a majority.
It emerged on Tuesday that the chief-of-staff for Senator Penny Wong, who is the Labor opposition foreign affairs spokesperson, had been in contact with the office of a New Zealand opposition Labor parliamentarian shorty before a question about the nature of dual-citizenship was raised in New Zealand’s parliament, leading to the public and official confirmation that Mr Joyce was in effect a New Zealand citizen.
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“Should there be a change of government, I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia,” Ms Bishop railed in parliament on Tuesday following the disclosure.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull seconded the accusation of conspiracy, saying Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was attempting to “steal government by entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power”.
However, Senator Wong denied that her staff had precipitated the crisis over Mr Joyce’s dual citizenship status and accused the foreign minister of unnecessarily creating a diplomatic incident with Australia’s closest ally.
“A staff member in my office had informal discussions with New Zealand friends about domestic political issues, including the section 44 debate,” Senator Wong said in a statement.
“New Zealand Minister Peter Dunne has since confirmed it was questions by Fairfax journalists, and not the question on notice, which led to the outing of Mr Joyce as a New Zealand citizen.
“For the Turnbull Government to then turn this into a diplomatic incident to try to distract attention from the failings of the Deputy Prime Minister is both reckless and damaging.”
The leader of New Zealand’s Labor party, Jacinda Arden, admitted the question raised by her party’s representative in parliament should not have been made but also deflected responsibility for the furor over Mr Joyce’s citizenship status.
“From my perspective we’ve made it clear it shouldn’t have happened but ultimately it was questions raised by the media that caused this situation, rather than questions from us,” Ms Arden said.
“I wanted to make clear our level of involvement because we’ve been implicated far beyond what we should have been.”
IMAGE: File image of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in parliament. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)