The Australian deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, and four senators have been ruled ineligible to sit in parliament by the high court, with only the National party’s Matt Canavan and NXT’s Nick Xenophon surviving a challenge that has hung over seven parliamentarians since their dual citizenship was discovered in July and August.
The court’s unanimous decision to uphold a strict reading of the constitutional disqualification of foreign citizens will trigger a byelection in the New South Wales seat of New England, won comfortably by Joyce, the National party leader, at the 2016 election. The court’s ruling also forced the deputy National party leader, Fiona Nash, and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts out of the Senate. Two Greens senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, who had already resigned, were confirmed as ineligible by the court.
Joyce’s exit strips Malcolm Turnbull’s government of its one-seat majority in the House of Representatives for now, but he could return through a byelection on 2 December.
In a joint decision the justices rejected the commonwealth’s argument that MPs or senators would need to have knowledge of their dual citizenship in order to be disqualified.
Speaking after the decision, Joyce, who was born in Australia but held New Zealand citizenship by descent from his father, said he had “no reason to believe that … I was a citizen of any other country than Australia”.
Joyce said the decision was “tough” but he was not “totally surprised” by it. He said he would not “cry into his beer” but rather prepare for the byelection in New England.
The Labor opposition rounded on the government, with its leader, Bill Shorten, claiming Australia now has “a minority government”: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
It is the silly season down under as well, it appears.