In this July 19, 2016, file photo Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce takes the oath of office as he is sworn in at Government House in Canberra, Australia. Joyce, on Monday, Aug. 14, 2017, became the latest lawmaker to reveal he might have breached a constitutional prohibition on dual citizens becoming lawmakers, after he was advised by the New Zealand government that he might be a kiwi. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, File)

Australian deputy prime minister under citizenship cloud

August 14, 2017 - 12:27 am

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's deputy prime minister on Monday became the latest lawmaker to reveal he might have breached a constitutional prohibition on dual citizens becoming lawmakers, after he was advised by the New Zealand government that he might be a kiwi.

Barnaby Joyce told Parliament said he would become the fifth lawmaker to be referred to the High Court since last month for scrutiny over whether he was entitled to remain in Parliament.

Joyce, who leads the conservative Nationals minor coalition party, said he had legal advice that he would be cleared by the court and would not stand down from Cabinet.

The 116-year-old section of the constitution that bans dual nationals is taking an extraordinary toll on the finely balanced Parliament elected in July last year. Before the careers of five came under a cloud since July, only two elected lawmakers were caught. Both were elected in the late 1990s and were quickly disqualified by the High Court, the first over New Zealand citizenship and the second for being British.

Critics of the constitutional rule argue it no longer suits the modern multicultural Australia in which almost half the population was born overseas or has at least one overseas-born parent.

If Joyce was disqualified, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's center-right government could lose its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives where parties need a majority to govern. The other four lawmakers are senators who if disqualified would be replaced by members of their own parties.

Joyce said he was notified by the New Zealand High Commission on Thursday that, on investigating inquiries made by New Zealand's center-left Labour Party, the New Zealand government had discovered "I may be a citizen by descent of New Zealand."

"Needless to say, I was shocked to receive this information," said Joyce, whose father migrated from New Zealand in 1947.

The citizenship crisis first took hold in Parliament when two minor Greens party senators, Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters, quit days apart after discovering they were still citizens of their birth countries. Ludlam was born in New Zealand and Waters was born in Canada. Both left as children and made no efforts to secure citizenship other than Australian.

Turnbull accused the Greens of "incredible sloppiness" in vetting candidates, before senior government minister Matt Canavan announced that he had discovered he was Italian.

Australia-born Canavan, who said his mother applied for his Italian citizenship without his permission when he was aged 25, stood down as resources minister, but said he was staying in the Senate unless the court declares them ineligible.

Joyce temporarily shouldered Canavan's portfolio and became a vocal supporter of his Nationals colleague. Joyce likened Canavan's predicament to Joyce hypothetically being deemed British because he had a British grandmother.

"I've never been to England," Joyce told reporters.

Joyce later corrected the record and conceded he had recently visited London on a business trip. "Apologies but there's a lot on my mind," Joyce tweeted.

Senior opposition lawmaker Anthony Albanese, whose mother was Italian, questioned why Canavan had stood down from Cabinet but Joyce had not.

"Both of them have been referred to the High Court and I think that it is clearly in the Australian Parliament's interests for these issues to be resolved one way or the other in an expedition manner," Albanese said.

Last week, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party One Nation Sen. Malcolm Roberts was referred to the High Court after he revealed that he only received written confirmation that he was not a British citizen five months after he was elected in July last year. Roberts, who was born in the Indian city of Disergarh in 1955 to an Australian mother and Welsh father, has declined to say whether he had ever been a dual citizen. He continues to vote in the Senate.

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