Barnaby Joyce, Australia’s deputy prime minister, has defended Australians against foreign property speculators, invasive species and even Johnny Depp’s dogs. But on Monday the 50-year-old politician stunned the nation by revealing he may be a New Zealand citizen and therefore not eligible to sit in parliament.
“Needless to say I was shocked to receive this information,” said Mr Joyce, who was born in Australia after his father emigrated from New Zealand. “I’ve always been an Australian citizen.”
My Joyce said he would ask the High Court to clarify whether he is eligible to remain a member of Australia’s parliament. He is the fifth Australian politician in a week to seek a ruling on their eligibility in an evolving citizenship saga, which threatens to destabilise a government that holds a razor thin majority in the House of Representatives.
Last week the Senate referred four cases to the High Court to decide on the eligibility of senators Matt Canavan, Malcolm Roberts, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam. But the referral of Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the National Party, to the High Court could prove to be a dangerous turn of events for the Liberal-National coalition, which governs with the support of a single seat parliamentary majority.
Mr Joyce’s father was born in New Zealand and emigrated to Australia in 1947 as a British subject. Mr Joyce was born in Australia in 1967 and he said he previously had no reason to believe he held New Zealand citizenship. But he said concerns had arisen recently when he was informed of a New Zealand law that enables anyone born overseas to a New Zealand parent to be a “citizen by descent”.
Mr Joyce said the New Zealand High Commission had told him he may be a citizen by descent when he made enquiries following questions posed by media.
The irony of the referral to the High Court of Mr Joyce, a populist politician with a penchant for wearing traditional Australian cattleman hats and defending Australia against invasive species, has not been lost on commentators.
Last year Mr Joyce made global headlines when he threatened to euthanize Johnny Depp’s dogs, Pistol and Boo, when the US film star smuggled them into Australia in breach of quarantine. He regularly speaks out against Chinese property speculation in Australia.