On 9 August 2017, New Zealand Labour MP Chris Hipkins, asked two questions (number one, and number two) about citizenship that would set the course for the possible demise of several Australian politicians’ careers and question the validity of the majority government – much to the delight of Amber Heard, and her dogs.
So, what was the root of the questions? Citizenship. Dual citizenship. Apparently, Australian MPs can't have it.
Buried within Australia’s Constitution at section 44 lives a 176-word paragraph detailing what disqualifies a person from being a Senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
Within that, are the following 40 words stating that a Senator or MP can't be
“Any person who: (i) is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power…”
“It's a part of Australia's written constitution (which dates back to 1900) - section 44 sets out who cannot be chosen as a member of Australia's Parliament,” says Professor Andrew Geddis, of the University of Otago’s Faculty of Law.
“Section 44(i) has been interpreted by the courts as meaning that dual citizens cannot be MPs.
“Basically, that's to ensure that MPs owe their fealty to Australia and Australia alone.”
Such forceful patriotism.
Dual citizenship isn’t a big deal in New Zealand. Are we not patriotic?
“We don't have a prohibition on dual citizens standing for election simply because we don't see it as a particular problem…” says Professor Geddis.
“… Instead, our law only says that if an MP becomes a citizen of another country after being elected, then they must stand down as an MP.” (see section 55(1)(c) of our Electoral Act 1993)
Essentially, we're quite happy for you to have represented another team; just don't try to switch sides at half time.
That said, New Zealand MPs are not exempt from the occasional misunderstanding of our electoral laws.
In 2002, United Future MP Kelly Chal lost her seat as she was found not to be a New Zealand citizen, and therefore not eligible to run as a candidate.
In 2003 Harry Duynhoven, a New Zealand citizen, applied for citizenship in the Netherlands after becoming an MP, breaching the Electoral Act's section 55(1)(c).
His mistake was considered a gaff, with Sir Geoffrey Palmer even referring to it as “trifling”; but then the majority government wasn’t relying on Mr Duynhoven to hold power.
Parliament's Privileges Committee released a thoughtful 14-page report on the matter and eventually, an Act retroactively amending our dual citizenship law was passed (see section 55AA of the Electoral Act) and Mr Duynhoven kept his seat.
Unfortunately for the Turnbull government, they're only holding on to power by a thread, and their Deputy Prime Minister holds dual citizenship with New Zealand.
“If the Australian High Court finds that Barnaby Joyce was disqualified as a candidate under the Australian Constitution, then he automatically loses his seat in the Australian Parliament. And the current Turnbull Government has a bare one seat majority, so losing Barnaby Joyce would immediately call its [the government’s] legitimacy into question,” says Professor Geddis.