World

Australia govt in turmoil after dual citizenship ruling

Australian government rocked by court judgment on 'citizenship seven'

SYDNEY: The Australian government was thrown into turmoil yesterday after losing its one-seat majority, with the nation's deputy prime minister kicked out of Parliament over his dual citizenship.

Mr Barnaby Joyce was among seven politicians embroiled in a crisis after falling afoul of a previously obscure constitutional rule that bars dual citizens from sitting in Parliament.

The High Court ruled he was ineligible, meaning a by-election for his lower house seat of New England in New South Wales state will be held on Dec 2. Australia's political landscape has been turbulent in recent years, with four prime ministers serving since 2013.

"The decision of the court today is clearly not the outcome we were hoping for, but the business of government goes on," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in Canberra after the ruling was handed down.

Mr Joyce, the leader of the rural-based National Party, is Australian-born but found out in August that he had automatically acquired New Zealand citizenship through his father.

He told reporters in Tamworth, a city in his New England seat, that he was "always prepared for this outcome".

"Now I am going to make sure that I don't cry in my beer."

The 50-year-old has since renounced his New Zealand citizenship, allowing him to run in the by-election.

Independent MP Cathy McGowan, now the power figure after Mr Joyce was canned, said she would "continue to supply confidence and support to the government", giving the coalition room to breathe in the lower House of Representatives.

The deputy's position is expected to be kept vacant ahead of the by-election, with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop set to take on the duties if Mr Turnbull travels overseas, according to local media.

Mr Turnbull is assuming Mr Joyce's agriculture portfolio.

If Mr Joyce loses the by-election, the coalition could keep ruling as a minority government if it receives the support of independent MPs on budget matters and on votes of no confidence.

Of the so-called "citizenship seven", only Nationals senator Matt Canavan and independent senator Nick Xenophon were cleared for Parliament.

The others, who are also upper house senators - the Nationals' Fiona Nash, the Greens' Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam and One Nation's Malcolm Roberts - were ruled ineligible.

Mr Canavan, who left Cabinet and his role as resources minister after finding out his mother had signed him up to Italian citizenship in his 20s, was able to resume the job.

Mr Xenophon is quitting the federal Senate and moving to state politics, running in South Australia's election next year.

The dual citizenship rule was inserted into the 1901 Constitution to ensure parliamentarians were loyal solely to Australia.

However, critics have said it is out of step with the modern reality of the country, where 50 per cent of the population are either foreign-born or the children of immigrants. - AFP

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