Home Roland Rocchiccioli Section 44 of the Australian Constitution is specific: You cannot hold dual...

Section 44 of the Australian Constitution is specific: You cannot hold dual citizenship and be a member of the Australian Federal Government.


I presume the same rule applies to state governments. On the one hand, one might hold a great deal of sympathy for the Deputy Prime Minister and Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce; but conversely, he has only himself to blame for the citizenship dilemma, and it is serious. He should have checked. That he erroneously believed his status to be otherwise is irrelevant.

When it comes to citizenship there can be no shades of grey between black and white. Either Mr. Joyce does, or does not, hold New Zealand citizenship. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Mr. English, has confirmed the citizenship, unambiguously. Section 44 of the Australian Constitution is equally unambiguous, irregardless of what appears to be a veiled directive from the Prime Minister to the seven Justices of the High Court. It matters little that Mr. Joyce is a maternal fifth generation Australian. His father was a New Zealander. The blood is, so to speak, tainted. To argue he was unaware of consanguineal citizenship it not an excuse at law, which contends ‘ignorantia legis neminem excusat’ – ignorance of the law excuses no-one. On a less elevated level, one is reminded of the old Mae West song: ‘I didn’t know the gun was loaded, and I’m so sorry my friend!’

The current state-of-affairs is incomprehensible – not to mention a gross waste of parliamentary sitting time. One mistake is defensible, but a series of them! So much for the system. What manner of a sloppy organisation are we running in this country? One is reminded of Paul Keating’s reference to a banana republic.

If you were aware that one of your parents was a foreign citizen, and you were contemplating a foray into federal politics, it would follow, as a matter of basic course, to check your status to be certain, unequivocally, given the clarity of Section 44 and the complexity of citizenship laws which vary from country to country – the glib pontifications of Attorney General, George Brandis, notwithstanding; because he says it is, does not make it so.

The Government’s seeming presumption as to what the High Court will rule is both desperate and hubristic. It matters not a whit what advice the government has sought and received, and it would be impertinent to presuppose what ruling will be handed-down. One might speculate that the law is precise. You cannot hold dual citizenship and be a member of the Australian government. Mr. Joyce holds dual citizenship; of that we are certain. We will have to wait and see what the High Court rules.

Let us not forget, it was Mr. Joyce who, in a self-important television appearance clearly designed to grab the news headlines, told Johnny Depp and his two little dogs to ‘bugger off back to the United States’. Quite properly, he made much of the argument that no-one is above the law; a statement he should bear in mind at this tumultuous time. One can only imagine what Mr. Depp will say on hearing the news, but ‘bugger off back to New Zealand’ does have a certain ring!

Barnaby Joyce’s old sparring partner,Tony Windsor, who was ousted to accommodate the former Senator’s political ambitions, says Section44 needs to be re-examined or we’ll end up back at the polls. ‘Amen’ to that, some would say.

Constitutional law expert Anne Twomey,who finds herself in the exact same positionas Barnaby Joyce, commented: ‘I knew my father was a New Zealander, but I had assumed that you needed to make an application.’ ‘Why’, one asks? You know what they say about assume: It makes an ass of you and me!

The Labor party has an extensive and exhaustive process for ensuring that every candidate satisfies all Constitutional requirements before they are nominated, including Section 44.One part of this process is that candidates are required to declare the citizenship status of their parents and grandparents. Where there are any issues with respect to dual citizenship – potential or otherwise – candidates are required to take all reasonable steps to renounce and satisfy the requirements of Section 44.This is a critical part of our nomination process. A candidate will not be nominated by the ALP without being cleared through this process. We are confident every member of the Labor caucus has been properly elected.

To which one might add Caveat emptor!

Perhaps MP Bob Katter should have the final word: ‘Well, he kicked Johnny Depp’s dog out because it wasn’t an Australian dog. Well, kick a dog when he’s down, it might come back to bite you on the backside. That precedent has now come back to bite Barnaby on the backside very painfully.’

More seriously, Mr Katter says Mr Joyce shouldn’t be voting in Parliament while the High Court is hearing his matter; and he believes Mr Joyce will be found ineligible to sit in Parliament, forcing a by-election in the electorate of New England.

Let the battle begin!

Roland can be heard each MONDAY morning on 3BA at 10.30.

Contact: rolandroc@bigpond.com