Speed Reads

Politics Down Under

Australia's High Court bars deputy prime minister, 4 others lawmakers from office over dual citizenship

Australian Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull at least temporarily lost his governing majority on Friday when Australia's High Court ruled that his deputy prime minster, Barnaby Joyce, and five other members of parliament are ineligible to serve because they held dual citizenship when elected. Three of the seven lawmakers implicated in a dual-citizenship flap that began over the summer belong to Turnbull's governing coalition, which drops to 75 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, from 76 before Joyce's departure. Turnbull said he is disappointed at the ruling but noted that the opposition Labor Party only has 69 seats.

Joyce renounced his New Zealand citizenship after discovering he was a dual citizen, and he's eligible to run for his old seat in a Dec. 2 special election; he said he will run again, and if he wins back his seat, Turnbull's government will have a majority again. Another Turnbull Cabinet member, Fiona Nash, will be replaced by a lawmaker from their party, while the third member of the governing party, Matt Canavan, was declared eligible to hold office, as was an independent lawmaker, Nick Xenophon, who resigned anyway. Two of the other members of Parliament disqualified — Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam, both of the Greens party — had already stepped down and urged the court to disqualify all seven lawmakers.

The seven-member High Court deliberated for two weeks on whether holding dual citizenship, even if unknowingly, should bar Australians from running for federal office as "subject or citizen of a foreign power," as stipulated under Section 44 of the Constitution. Their decision that it does clears up an ambiguous point of law, but it also opens to scrutiny decisions made by Joyce and Nash while they were still dual citizens. "This is all uncharted territory," says Anne Twomey, a constitutional law professor at the University of Sydney.