Contributed by Adam Carlton
Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister has been revealed as a citizen of New Zealand and this poses a serious dilemma for Malcolm Turnbull’s coalition government.
If Joyce is forced to depart, the majority of one has gone and the Coalition will be able to exist only as a minority government, so long as Labor allows it to do so.
What is the prospect of this happening? So far, there hasn’t been any indication that this will happen. And, why should It? The alternative is a new election, which Labor is likely to win by a landslide, if this were to happen soon.
For the Nationals, there is the added threat of losing their poster boy. It would be a serious setback and they would want to hold this off as long as possible.
The government has an incentive to string it out, no matter how dishonest this might be, in the hope that before the matter hits the fan, its standing will somehow improve.
This might be a long shot, but it’s all that there is, unless a way is fond to manipulate the legal process, to not only to stall any hearing in the High Court for as long as possible, but to pressure for the High Court to deliver a more generous interpretation of Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, which does not allow anyone with dual citizenship form holding parliamentary office.
Barring those with dual citizenship may be an anachronism. The problem has been that the same issue has just caused the resignation of two Greens Senators, where the government looked on with obvious glee.
Since then, the light has found One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts has been caught. Not so much glee here. Roberts holds on without a whimper from the government.
Now that Joyce is in the spotlight, the government is being seen to actively apply a double standard. This is going to do nothing to help its poor image. The short -term payoff is that it is giving itself a chance to avoid standing for an election, which it knows it would likely lose by a landslide. The instinct for self-preservation, has a way of encouraging the betrayal of principle.
The immediate strategy looks like it is based on stalling the Joyce case before the High Court for as long as possible and thereby gaining a little breathing space to map out a more permanent solution. The prospect is that pressure will be put on the legal process to come out with the result that the government wants.
It means a more generous interpretation of section 44 of the Constitution that bars those holding dual citizenship from holding parliamentary office. The basis for this would be the much more far reaching implication that this could extend to those working in the public sector and where there is public funding.
If applied in this strict sense, at least hundreds of thousands of Australians would be affected. The argument is that to be upheld, the prohibition needs to be applied equally and is therefore unworkable.
By cynically selectively using what might be a just argument, to secure its political position, the Turnbull government is cutting further into is already low stock of political legitimacy, making it harder to operate and further increasing its internal instability.
Turnbull stands to be further diminished and his opponents, waiting are for an opportunity to impose a regime change, are being strengthened.