Barnaby Joyce, as a fellow Kwaussie I feel a cultural responsibility to you

“All the talk of citizenship, family and belonging certainly impels me to reach out in solidarity to my countrymen – by whom I mean, specifically, Scott Ludlam and Barnaby Joyce.” (Photograph: AP)

17 August 2017
Van Badham

Who would have thought I had so much in common with Joyce and Ludlam, eh? But there are a lot of uniquely great things about dual Australian-New Zealandness that I fret you have missed.

Two senators have resigned in the wake of Australia’s dual citizenship scandal. At least two more probably should. Now the deputy prime minister himself has fallen foul of the constitution’s infamous section 44, which prohibits Australia’s federal parliamentarians holding any citizenship bar Australian. The prime minister is scrambling to stall the resignations of his own people that precedent obliges.

Why? Not because Ssection 44 of constitutional law has changed at all since Howard-era Liberal Jackie Kelly was forced to resign her seat, sort out her paperwork and recontest in a by-election on 19 October 1996. What’s changed is the government’s numbers; Barnaby Joyce sits in the House of Representatives, where Turnbull clings to majority government by a single, tenuous vote. Should s44 facilitate the removal of the member for New England, it will take Turnbull’s majority with it.

The effect may be more than temporary. In the event of a byelection the evergreen Joyce bête-noire and former MP, Tony Windsor, is not ruling himself out of a run. And I can’t help but wonder how the public servants Joyce forcibly relocatedto work in his neighbourhood may decide to vote. Can you?

When the Coalition thought that only the Greens were inept with the form-filling, Barnaby Joyce declared the issue was “black and white”. Scott Ludlam and his somewhat carelessly Canadian Greens colleague Larissa Waters were dispatched. But with Joyce’s ineptitude exposed, Australia’s conspicuously unresigned conservative cadre are racing to the high court in a sudden blur of grey. They’re depending on legal judgment so extraordinary that it can contort a century of precedent, explicit legal language and observable reality into the legal outcome equivalent of a massive cheese Twisty. Legal scholars don’t think that it will work. Alas, with decisions such as the reality-defying terra nullius lurking in our legal history, the thing about Australia is that you never really know.

Despite everything, I think we’ve all got a lot to be grateful for here. It’s a privilege of being Australian that we forget so many of our families emigrated to this country because government crises in other places involve extremism, bloodshed and murder – not just some numpty-o failing to fill in a form. We are, fortunately, not America. The horrific events in Charlottesville this week have forced the west to again confront dangerous internal narratives of white nationalism and supremacy. What a comfort it is to see Australia’s most powerful white people so lacking in supremacy they’re not even sure which nations they are already in.

That so many of our MPs possess surprisingly immediate migrant histories speaks volumes to the success of our multiculture. All the talk of citizenship, family and belonging certainly impels me to reach out in solidarity to my countrymen – by whom I mean, specifically, Scott Ludlam and Barnaby Joyce. Because – haere mai, fellow flightless birds! – I’m a dual Australian-New Zealander, too! And under the exact same New Zealand legislation as Barnaby – born between 1948 and 1978, with a Kiwi for a dad. Special thanks to whoever the guy was in Penny Wong’s office who cleared that up by phoning a mate.

Not that he needed to go to the trouble in my case, because a) my parents explained my dual citizenship to me in detail when I was a small child and b) the technical breakdown of New Zealand nationality has its own Wikipedia page as well as a website that’s been online for a year. You’ve surprised me, Scott – I thought you were better with computers.

But who would have guessed we three had so much in common, eh? I mean, I don’t support cutting the pension like you two do, nor do I endorse the ongoing garbage fire your chosen teams both ignited with the Senate voting changes. But as your fellow (Austrealander? Aotearoalian? Kwaussie?) I feel a cultural responsibility to you, a sense of spiritual whānau. If it’s true that your failure to check your citizenship was, as George Brandis insists, just ignorant – rather than an arrogant belief that, pfft, the constitution just doesn’t apply to you – there’s a lot of uniquely great things about the dual national childhood of Australian-New Zealandness I fret you may have missed.

Like receiving Footrot Flats compendiums and pāua shell souvenirs in post-packs from your Nan. Or mocking your cousins’ accents (“Say ‘six’ again! Say ‘six’!”) on a long-distance phone call at Christmas. It implies you may never have helped your dad and his mates put the pit down for a hāngi, and then watch them get drunk singing along to John Rowles before dad did a haka with a broom. Did you even bake from the Edmonds cookbook, bro? Were you never once obliged on holiday to borrow your cousins’ trunks and jandals? Or to enjoy carefully imported L&P, a Pinky bar or your auntie’s lolly cake?

Have you never, indeed, enjoyed the greatest of dual national privileges; cheering on both the Australian cricket team and the mighty, mighty All Blacks with full confidence and legitimacy?

I’m anxious that if this was denied to you it’s because your families foresaw Julie Bishop’s unhinged and increasingly eye-widening accusations that New Zealand is less a sovereign nation and more of a land-based conspiracy plotted out by Bill Shorten, the Noodles Romanoff of the Tasman. Fearing persecution like hers, who wouldn’t hide the Marmite and soften the vowels to blend in?

It’s just all so ridiculous. I was one of the people who pooh-poohed the section 44 campaign waged for years by local internet cranks who made endless, poorly spell-checked demands that Tony Abbott – papers in check, not actually caught up in this scandal – release his citizenship forms. I still would.

Section 44’s citizenship provisions were made at a time where international relations were understood through prisms of deterministic racial stereotypes, internment camps and Indigenous erasure. Reviews into the laws have recommended their amendment for years. Barnaby Joyce has been in breach of section 44 for over a decade; the nation was not compromised by his potential to apply for a Kiwi passport. We were not made more unsafe because Larissa Waters first breathed in the same air as the Mounties. The breadth of the scandal amongst parliamentarians reveals how intrinsic to Australian experience diverse heritage is. There should always be considerations around transactions of wealth and property, criminality and security clearance for MPs. But for those of us who retain a symbolic connection to family and tradition through their dual citizenship, the symbol itself is powerful – and a clear disincentive to seeking office, given the sacrifice demanded.

If anything, the imposition of section 44 overshadows the seriousness of greater potential treacheries we should investigate. Like a minister negotiating a trade deal allowing the replacement of credentialed Australian tradies with cheap, Chinese labour, mere months before accepting a job or Chinese corporate interests. Or a small business minister pocketing an undeclared $75,000 from the franchise lobby, representing so many international brands, while he himself was their minister. Or just why the prime minister has been stashing his money in Panama.

The law, of course, remains the law – and it must be equally applied. If the terms of the constitution have been breached, all – including Joyce – must be punished. If not, all – including Ludlam – should be exonerated. And despite knowing no loyalty to either Joyce or Ludlam like I do to New Zealand (God defend it), my preference, as a citizen of Australia, is that we see either the latter, or reform.

Because – who knows? I may one day change my mind and seek the pre-selection my dual citizenship presently denies me. One feels a yearning to go where one’s people are. I’m sure Barnaby and Scott can understand, eh.

[Read The Guardian article].

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