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Why Australia has lost its deputy prime minister

"It is a tough game, politics. You take the hits and the sacrifices," Barnaby Joyce told reporters

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Why Australia has lost its deputy prime minister

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Australia’s High Court has ruled that the country’s Deputy Prime Minister is ineligible to remain in parliament.

He has discovered he has dual nationality.


The ‘Citizenship Seven’

Barnaby Joyce was one of a group of lawmakers known as the ‘Citizenship Seven’. Their eligibility to stand in parliament was thrown into doubt in recent months when it was found they had dual nationalities.

This is barred under Australia’s constitution to prevent divided loyalties.

All seven accepted they were dual nationals at the time of their election but claimed they were unaware of their status.

Some were given a second nationality by birth, some by descent.

Of the remaining six, who are from the coalition and minority parties, four were also found ineligible to hold parliamentary office.

Some had already resigned. All were senators, which meant seats in the upper house of parliament could be assigned to party alternatives if they were ruled ineligible, rather than hold more by-elections.

Australian Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue had urged the seven justices of the High Court not to interpret the constitution literally.

He argued that five of the seven, including three Cabinet members, should be cleared because they were unaware they had contravened the constitutional requirement at the time.


What did Joyce do?

Joyce, whose constituency is in rural New South Wales state, renounced his dual New Zealand citizenship in August.

“The business of government goes on,” Malcolm Turnbull said as he confirmed a by-election would be held on December 2.

Joyce has confirmed he will stand in the by-election, which polling shows he has a strong chance of winning.

“It is a tough game, politics. You take the hits and the sacrifices,” Joyce told reporters.


How serious is this?

Very. The decision has cost the government its one-seat majority and has forced a by-election.

Malcolm Turnbull’s centre-right coalition is now in a precarious position. His Liberal Party is the senior partner in a coalition with the smaller National Party, which Joyce led.

He must now win the support of one of three independent lawmakers to keep his minority government afloat. There are two sitting weeks of parliament left until it recesses for the year.

At least two independent lawmakers have pledged their support.

Independent MP Bob Katter told reporters he would support the government but he may reconsider if the coalition tries to block renewed efforts for a sweeping investigation into the scandal-ridden financial system.

“I think we have the numbers for a commission into the banks and, if the government tries to block that, then I think we will get into murky waters,” Katter said.

What has the opposion done?

Gone on the attack. The Labor Party immediately threatened to launch a legal challenge to every decision made by Joyce since last year’s election.

Acting Labor leader Tanya Plibersek said Turnbull had shown “reckless judgement” in keeping Joyce on the front bench during the court challenge.

“We are deeply concerned that Australia is facing a period of uncertainty because this prime minister has insisted on keeping ministers on his front bench who have not been not only ineligible to be ministers but ineligible to be in the parliament,” Plibersek said.