The Turnbull government is facing minority status and a difficult by-election after Australia’s High Court found the entire leadership of the National Party — Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and Nationals deputy leader Fiona Nash — ineligible to stand at the 2016 election, due to their citizenship status under section 44 of the Australian constitution.
Mr Joyce will now face a by-election in the seat of New England, likely to be called on the 2 December, with a writ issued by the Speaker of the House today. Joyce is one of five federal MPs to be unanimously knocked out by the Court. It also found former Greens senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters were not validly elected, along with One Nation’s controversial Senator Malcolm Roberts and the National Party’s Fiona Nash. Nick Xenophon and Matt Canavan have been ruled eligible, though Nick Xenophon will leave Federal politics to pursue a career in State politics in his home state of South Australia.
In terms of the immediate fall out, Matt Canavan will return to Northern Australia and Resources Minister; Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will take on Agriculture and Water Resources, and Mitch Fifield will take on Regional Communications from Fiona Nash – Darren Chester will take on her other portfolios.
The issue of citizenship was raised in July this year following the resignation of Greens Senator Scott Ludlam who resigned from the Senate after it was brought to his attention he held dual Australian and New Zealand citizenship, rendering him ineligible to hold elected office in the Federal Parliament under section 44 of the Australian Constitution.
He became the first casualty of the 2017 Australian constitutional crisis. Ludlam’s resignation led to a number of MPs and Senators publicly clarifying their citizenship status, and also led to fellow Greens Senator and Deputy Leader Larissa Waters’s resignation four days later, after discovering she held Canadian citizenship. A swathe of allegations regarding eligibility followed, which resulted in the establishment of the Citizenship Seven – referred to the High Court for assessment.
These rulings have plunged the government into disarray. As a minority government, Turnbull’s slim grip on power will be tested in the result of the forthcoming New England by-election. If the seat is not won by a Liberal or National candidate, the current government will cease to maintain its one seat majority, forcing a Federal election early next year.
Joyce’s dismissal also leaves open to challenge every ministerial decision he has made, as well as those made by Ms Nash, since October 20 last year.
Legal advice obtained by the ALP confirms that under section 64 of the constitution a person can only act as a minister for three months without being a member of Parliament. Mr Joyce is now invalid as an MP from the time of last year’s election on July 2, and the only decisions which are valid are those which he made in the first three months as minister after he was sworn in on July 19.
Ultimately, the impression that the Turnbull government is notable only for its chaos and instability has been reinforced. If a Federal election is triggered by the result of the New England by-election, we could be facing yet another leadership change and an inevitable impact on business and consumer confidence.
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