FORMER New England MP Tony Windsor hasn’t ruled out running to try and regain his former rural NSW seat, if a by-election is triggered by current holder and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce being disqualified from parliament due to dual citizenship.
Mr Windsor spoke up today after news broke of Mr Joyce’s latest challenge - to retain his position in parliament and seat of New England, due to being the latest federal politician embroiled in the citizenship scandal.
In a brief statement to the House of Representatives, Mr Joyce said he was contacted last Thursday afternoon by the NZ High Commission to advise that on the basis of preliminary advice from the department of internal affairs, which had received inquiries from the NZ Labour Party, it considered he could be a citizen of NZ by descent.
“Needless to say I was shocked to receive this information,” Mr Joyce said.
Asked if he would run in a by-election if Mr Joyce was disqualified, if it was proven he held dual NZ citizenship, Mr Windsor said “I would not rule anything out”.
“Would see what the lay of the land was but would not think there would be one (by-election) however you never know,” he said.
Mr Windsor said he didn’t know the technicalities of Mr Joyce’s citizenship issue but with other Senators recently resigning from parliament - Greens Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlum - he believed Labor leader Bill Shorten and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull needed to take a good look at the rules.
“The current law needs to be looked at,” he said in reference to section 44 of the constitution.
“Not sure who but someone has said Barnaby Joyce is definitely a dual citizen of NZ so under the current arrangements he’d be ruled out.”
Mr Windsor resigned from parliament in 2013 after holding the seat for 11 years but unsuccessfully challenged Mr Joyce at least year’s election.
Mr Windsor said it was also up to the government and Mr Turnbull to decide, if Mr Joyce stayed in the ministry, rather then stepped aside, like Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan has done, while the High Court decides his fate, after it was revealed he held dual Italian citizenship.
In his statement today, Mr Joyce said the government had taken legal advice from the solicitor general.
“On the basis of the solicitor general’s advice, the government is of the firm view that I would not be found to be disqualified by the operation of section 44.1 of the constitution for serving as the member for New England,” he said.
“However to provide clarification to this very important area of the law, for this and future parliaments, I have asked the government to refer the matter, in accordance with section 376 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, to the High Court, sitting as the Court of Disputed Returns.
“Given the strength of the legal advice the government has received, the Prime Minister has asked that I remain Deputy Prime Minister and continue my ministerial duties.”
ABC political expert Antony Green said if Mr Joyce sorted out his citizenship issue in time, if ruled to be ineligible, he could also run at any potential by-election.
Speaking in parliament, senior Labor power-broker Tony Burke questioned the broader impacts of Mr Joyce’s eligibility to sit in parliament.
Mr Burke said it was unknown if parliament had an eligible member for New England, Deputy Prime Minister, or even a majority government.
Mr Joyce assumed Senator Canavan’s ministerial responsibilities for Northern Australia and Resources, while the Court of Disputed Returns deals with his eligibility issue.
At the time, National Farmers’ Federation CEO Tony Mahar backed in the Deputy Prime Minister saying Mr Joyce had an understanding “better than most”, of the issues in the Resource and Northern Australia portfolios.
“I have every confidence that Minister Joyce, with the help of assistance ministers, will capably manage the extra responsibilities, until which time a more permanent solution is in place,” he said.
NFF however declined to comment on the latest development and whether the NZ citizenship issue would distract Mr Joyce from adequately addressing his ministerial duties.
Mr Burke – a former Agriculture Minister – said Mr Joyce should step aside due to doubt over his constitutional eligibility.
“This is the first time in history of this Parliament a government has asked the High Court to determine whether in fact they have a majority,” he said.
“This is a government reliant on a majority of one.
“What the House is doing right now is saying to the High Court ‘we’re not actually sure if the government does have a majority of one’.
“But we have been here for 12 months making laws with a government that may or may not be legitimate.
“With a Parliament that may or may not be voting according to the Constitution of this country.
“And if the Minister for Resources was able to stand aside even though he had the Attorney General beside him claiming that he had a strong case then why on earth is strong case the defense for the Deputy Prime Minister?
“How on earth does that work?
“It cannot be the case that the words of the Attorney General in defending Senator Canavan and why he wouldn't resign from Parliament were correct, because they apparently had a strong case, yet stood aside.
“But if it's the Deputy Prime Minister the person who's the architect of the Coalition agreement with the Prime Minister on which the fate of this Government hangs that secret deal, then in that situation, the rules all change.”
During question time, Mr Burke argued Mr Joyce should not be permitted to answer questions while the citizenship issue was being dealt with by the High Court – but the speaker ruled he was eligible.
After a vote, Mr Joyce was also allowed to answer a question where he said agricultural production had grown by 19 per cent and attacked the opposition’s record.
He said Labor was only after Green votes and had delivered “nothing” for central Queensland, including for cattle producers.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon asked Mr Turnbull what the difference was between the legal advice given to Senator Cananvan who stepped aside from the ministry, and that given in reference to Mr Joyce’s situation.
“How can our farmers and other agribusiness stakeholders have confidence that a Minister whose legitimacy is under question can adequately represent their interests?” he said in a statement.
“For example, Barnaby Joyce is currently responsible for Australia’s biosecurity.
“If there is a serious biosecurity breach such as the recent White Spot outbreak, how can we be confident the Minister is capable of adequately responding in the eyes of the law?
“How can producers and growers have confidence Barnaby Joyce is capable of representing their interests when trading partners suspend our exports?
“How can they be confident our international partners will take Barnaby Joyce seriously?
“Barnaby Joyce should put the national interest ahead of his own interest and stand aside.”