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Pacific News Minute: Dual-Citizenship Controversy Threatens Australian Government

JJ Harrison
Wikimedia Commons

Last month, when two members of the Australian Greens (Greens, plural, is correct) Party resigned because they suddenly learned that they held dual citizenship, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce declared that “Ignorance is no excuse.” But now Joyce himself has been caught up in the controversy and the ruling coalition’s razor thin majority in parliament is at risk…we have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Australia’s Constitution prohibits anyone with dual citizenship from running for national office. In mid-July, the two deputy co-leaders of the Australian Greens resigned when they learned that their birth conferred citizenship from New Zealand and Canada. Then, a cascade of revelations caught five others with dual loyalties, including the flamboyantly patriotic deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

His case is critical. The others are either members of opposition parties or Senators. Joyce is a Member of Parliament, where Prime Minister Turnbull’s coalition holds power with a majority of just one.

If Joyce is forced to resign, the Turnbull government itself could fall. Unlike the two Greens senators, Joyce and the four others refused to reign and referred their case to Australia’s High Court, where legal experts say, they have little chance.

And this controversy sparked a rare diplomatic dust up with New Zealand. After an Australian Labor Party staff member, tipped off an MP from New Zealand’s Labour party about dual citizenship questions. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop indignantly declared Kiwi politicians guilty of gross intrusion into Ozzie affairs, while Prime Minister Turnbull protested that his political opponents had conspired with a foreign power, prompting a round of jeers from across the Tasman Sea.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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