Aussie rules of the House

Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce (Photo: BBC Reuters)

Opinion Editorial

16 August 2017

For all the criticisms, few can argue the political arena has been tedious of late.

Wherever one looks, supposedly stable Western democracies appear to be in a state of turmoil.

The British Parliament is riding the rocky road to Brexit, the revolving door of the Trump Administration has been in perpetual motion, and it is has been hard to keep up with the whirlwind of shape-shifting at home, which is certainly ensuring one of the more interesting general election run-ins in living memory.

Across the Tasman, meanwhile, the political landscape is rapidly descending into farce.

Last month two Green senators – co-deputy leaders nonetheless – were forced to resign within a week of each other, as it transpired they held dual citizenship (under the Australian constitution a person who is a foreign national cannot be elected to Parliament).

Larissa Waters holds dual Australian and Canadian citizenship and Scott Ludlam dual Australia and New Zealand citizenship.

”Red-faced Greens” headlines dominated the news as other MPs scrambled to check their bloodlines, reveal the paperwork that showed they had renounced any competing citizenship, and defended their allegiances to the ”lucky country”.

As two others succumbed (National cabinet minister Matt Canavan and One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts), arguments raged as to whether those caught up in the fiasco were negligent or victims of circumstance.

Amid the chaos, a voice of reason was Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who was reported in The Australian last month saying the Government could not afford to ”start throwing rocks” at the Greens as their mistakes could be made by others.

”You’ve got to be really careful, if you start throwing stones when something was an honest oversight because you bet your life the stone will come back and hit you,” Mr Joyce said.

His words could not have been more prescient.

There is now a constitutional crisis, after the revelation Mr Joyce is also a New Zealand citizen (his father was born in either Hampden or Dunedin) – confirmed on this side of the Tasman by Prime Minister Bill English and Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne.

The High Court is now considering the technicalities of his case, along with the four others.

Not only is it a constitutional cliff-hanger, Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal National coalition Government is on a knife-edge as it only holds a one-seat majority in the lower house, so could be forced into a by-election.

This country’s own farcical few weeks notwithstanding, there will be many New Zealanders looking on in glee at the developments, given our often rivalrous relationship.

There is also no small irony two of those in senior positions hold dual New Zealand citizenship.

New Zealanders on both sides of the Ditch have long bemoaned the treatment of so-called ”Oz Kiwis” by Australian lawmakers. It is difficult to be a New Zealander there, committed to living and working and paying tax in Australia, yet shut out of many of the return benefits. Now, in a case of just desserts, some at the top are learning just how hard it can be to be ”tainted” with the Kiwi label. Maybe the fiasco will help remind the Australian Government of the ”special relationship” it supposedly has with New Zealand.

Or perhaps not. The spat has now become a trans-Tasman one. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern are trading blows over the origins of the information about Mr Joyce’s citizenship, and other politicians here have waded into the political point-scoring, too.

That is further foolish behaviour, however, for there can be no pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes: it is Australia that looks well and truly sheepish over this one.

[Read the Otago Daily Times article].

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