“Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, is ‘e? Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, eh?”, a catchy 1930s hit, could be the theme song of the entire 45th Parliament this week as three more MPs are exposed as dodgy double-dipping dual nationals under their Akubras, their RM Williams and their Drizabones. It’s like a masked ball. No-one is who they seem.
Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash and Nick Xenophon are all, in quick succession, revealed to hold dual citizenship.
It’s a shocking predicament. A government so over-invested on prizing citizenship, a government which has even added tough language tests and waiting periods in order to “accept the right people” as soon-to-be-Super Minister Dutton puts it, a government which fetishises the “priceless gift of citizenship” (akin to Tony Abbott’s “precious gift of virginity”) may be utterly undone by alien MPs who appear lax; blasé, even, over their own nationality.
Of course it’s all Labor’s fault, at least in the case of our iconic Deputy PM, bow-yang Barnaby, as Aussie as a dog on a tucker-box, last glimpsed succumbing to the spell of the water naiads of the Murray Darling Basin.
Barnaby goes to water. Panic grips the entire front bench. Pyne is petrified. What if the truth about Fiona Nash leaks? A fool-proof diversion is called for. A red kiwi conspiracy? Brilliant!
Turning crisis into catastrophe, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Turnbull government sheds any last vestige of credibility with a Kiwis-under-the-bed witch hunt.
Labor is colluding with “a foreign power” to out Barnaby Joyce as a New Zealander. It’s a stroke of genius.
Our Foreign Minister channels her inner Trump. Bugger diplomacy: a stunt is much more fun. Reason flies out the window. Julie Bishop denounces Wellington, now the Pyongyang of the South Pacific. Howls down the Pig Islanders. She feigns paranoid madness in a cunning ploy to divert everyone from the Barnaby Joyce disaster.
Clearly there’s a conspiracy between the Bolshevik parties on both sides of the Tasman, she implies. Demon Bill Shorten’s “sneakiness, dishonesty and disloyalty” pipes up her PM, adding his own ostinato to the Kill Bill theme, make him the cause of every self-inflicted government catastrophe, ever. Heads nod. Sinodinos applauds.
“The Australian people elected the government,” Turnbull tells Coalition MPs on Tuesday. Applause. “Bill Shorten wants to steal government by entering into a conspiracy with a foreign power.” How low can he go?
Adding a clever bit of cold war era top spin, the PM claims ALP fifth columnists are “conspiring with the NZ Labour Party to undermine the position of the deputy prime minister and the government of Australia.”
Really? So the proper, patriotic thing to do would have been to collude to cover up Barnaby’s Kiwi paternity? It’s unclear how checking the facts could “undermine” the government unless it wanted to hide its illegitimacy.
The charge is as dishonest as it is absurd. How could Joyce’s “position” which stems from his own false declaration of nationality be further undermined? Could he be more compromised? Inquiries, moreover, were not made by Labor but by a reporter working for The Australian. Fairfax journalist Adam Gartrell was also asking questions.
Yet for Bishop, a class act, who shows no signs of snubbing mass-murderer Duterte, payback doesn’t stop there.
“I would find it very difficult to build trust with members of a political party that had been used by the Australian Labor Party to seek to undermine the Australian government,” Bishop sniffs Tuesday, upping the ante; clearly aiming to make a full-blown diplomatic incident out of her government’s desperately lame strategy.
“Forget the trans-Tasman friendship in 2017 – Australia is basically a bully,” says Jesse Mulligan, host of New Zealand’s The Project.
“Julie Bishop – when you say you’ll find it hard to work with New Zealand, what exactly do you mean? How much worse could it possibly get?”
Bishop has touched a raw nerve with New Zealanders who view the relationship as one-sided and who find it difficult to overlook evidence that access to citizenship and social security entitlements for Australians in New Zealand are not reciprocated in the treatment of Kiwis in Australia – before anyone brings up the summary deportation via Christmas Islands of Kiwis in Australia whom Peter Dutton doesn’t like the look of.
Trans-Tasman relations aside, for Laura Tingle, of The Australian Financial Review Bishop descends into a “whirlpool of hysteria and conspiracy theories that would do Donald Trump proud”. It’s disturbing.
Yet Bishop’s done the government a favour. Her stunt is more than enough to dispel any delusion that she might, somehow, be a “safe pair of hands’ or a potential replacement for a dead man walking at the head of a mortally wounded government, Malcolm Turnbull. Even the smitten Peter Hartcher says she’s “over-cooked” her bid.
Deputy PM Barnaby “Bow-yang” Joyce outs himself in the House of Reps. He has to. Labor asks a leading question. Media hacks are shocked. Not Ocker Barnaby, our best retail politician? A Kiwi dual national who has, for years, been impersonating a true blue, bush Aussie? No half measures either. Hands down, he’s got the part off pat.
Just listen to him some time. The Barnaby garble is New England’s – New Zealand’s answer to Bob Katter’s rant.
Baa-narby. Stop bleating about your Tamworth mother and grandmother, Baa-narby. You’re busted. On cue, a mob of MPs rushes to point the finger and snigger. Baa-Baa-arnby sheep noises erupt from Labor benches.
Yet things are so crook in the 45th parliament that even a ribbing is risky. Never know who’ll be next.
“Things are looking baaaaaaaa-d for Barnaby Joyce” tweets a snickering Nick Xenophon in RM Williams boot in mouth Schadenfreude of the week “that’s why an independent audit of all MPs citizenship urgently needed.”
Xenophon is visibly dismayed to learn he is a UK citizen and while he goes to some length to point out it’s through his father and a very rare blink- and- you’d- miss- it type of citizenship, his special pleading sits oddly with his decision not to resign.
He refers himself to a High Court which may not make a decision until October, a High Court which staffed by conservative black-letter judges which Turnbull oddly seems to believe will suddenly become progressives to suit his government. Joyce, similarly, seems unable to countenance anything but a favourable High Court decision.
Barnaby Joyce’s father, James Joyce – no less, hails from Dunedin, Edinburgh of New Zealand’s South, technically making his son a dour Kiwi by descent, a fact Joyce could easily have checked for himself but didn’t. It’s odd that he was never even curious. The complacency and the sense of entitlement is all his own – and his undoing.
Yet Joyce’s not the only 45th Parliamentarian whose inner voice told him not to bother. Fiona Nash can’t even bring herself to confess until the last-minute before the senate rises. Three Nats out of a total of 20 is a lot.
Is it chutzpah? Arrogance? Agrarian socialists never read the fine print? Something tells him he’s above all that?
Joyce receives a box of finest kiwi-fruit from gal-pal, puppy-lover, Amber Heard who tweets
‘When Barnaby Joyce said ‘no one is above the law’ I didn’t realise he meant New Zealand law.’
Yet Joyce won’t stand down. That’s something for others – such as his hated Greens to do. Listen to them moaning about how billions of litres of Murray-Darling water is rorted by big cotton irrigators and other National Party pals in direct contravention of the $13 billion Murray Darling Basin plan, a boondoggle which means that water paid for by taxpayers to protect the river ecosystem is, instead, subsidising local billion-dollar agricultural firms.
The notion of a Kiwi fifth column is no more absurd than the idea of leaving Barnaby Joyce in charge next week when the PM attends the Pacific Islands forum in Samoa, 4-7 September a nation with a history of resistance to European rule. Labor says leaving Joyce in charge is untenable and that it will not grant a pair for Turnbull.
But it’s about more than Barnaby. Into its regular, heady mix of state sponsored intolerance and paranoia, the government blends a swift Kiwi-kicking, a bagging of our ANZAC partners and post-colonial cousins-the soul mates we love to hate.
It’s a ritual attack, born of a complex mutual self-loathing, the cultural-cringing, sibling rivalry of two small nations upside down at the bottom of the world whose complex history is inextricably interwoven.
“Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, is ‘e? Is ‘e an Aussie, Lizzie, eh?
Not only are we close, we may all now be Kiwi-aliens. According to the letter of section 44 of the Australian Constitution, no Australian is entitled to sit in Australian Parliament, given recent changes in New Zealand law.
As Sydney barrister Robert Angyal reminds us, Section 44 (i) of the constitution bars anyone “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” from serving in federal parliament.
“Under recent and little-noticed changes to New Zealand law, however, Australian citizens now don’t need a visa to live, study or work in NZ. Any Australian citizen is entitled to live, study and work there,” he says. All are thereby entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power.
“New Zealand law has made every Australian citizen incapable of being elected to, or serving in, the Australian Parliament. It’s not just Barnaby Joyce: It’s everyone,” he adds.
Doubtless this is something for The High Court to take into consideration. Lighten things up a bit. Certainly it will have to screen out the comments made by the Prime Minister that “it will find” that Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash can remain in parliament, an extraordinary prompting from the PM in parliament. Even if he is merely reflecting the Solicitor General’s view, it appears as if he is directing the judges to a favourable outcome.
The government redoubles its efforts to keep us in a state of perpetual hysteria; alert but no alarmed. There’s always pressing national security news on hand to divert us; feed our anxiety. By Sunday, the PM is talking up bollards and other anti-terror attack preparations while praising police for arresting three men who are currently in custody over an alleged arson attack on an Islamic Centre a year ago. Cutting edge anti-terror stuff.
It’s one of the weekly terror announceables which Laura Tingle recently warned us the government has put by.
Turnbull’s backing group is a nod squad of heavily-braided, shoulder-patched anti-terror cops, a riot of silver frogging and rank insignia all over the collars and the epaulettes of their black shirts and braid on the peaks of their caps. They are on hand to add laconic gravitas. Praise policing. They also update us on their bust.
One speaks of “male individuals” with that agonisingly indirect death-in-life depersonalisation so beloved by authorities, together with an arch coyness that is practically an anti-terror weapon in itself.
Not that the names are secret. Ever helpful, Murdoch’s Herald Sun published them in a law and order piece last year complete with illustrations of the Fawkner mosque which bears graffiti reading The Islamic State.
The definite article is troubling. Islamic State would look more less like a fit-up.
Everything is not what it seems, another cop not beating things up, tells us earnestly. “This is a really complex investigation.” “These are not just arson attacks – what we are going to allege is that these were Islamic State inspired arson attacks.” “… Designed to put fear into a particular group in the community.”
“It interferes with the whole process of social cohesion that we so heavily promote,” he adds, straight-faced.”
In reality, the Coalition continues to divide the body politic with its war on terror, its rabid nationalism and its cynical manipulation of our fear of the other. Elevating citizenship into a “cherished prize” also stokes division.
By week’s end “all bets are off” in “light of the deputy prime minister’s citizenship situation” declares a shattered Bob Katter. He will no longer guarantee Coalition support on supply and confidence. He’s offended, above all, by Turnbull’s failure to even adequately consult with him, as promised, let alone meet Katter’s needs.
“I wanted and need certain things. I wasn’t delivered certain things,” he says. By this, presumably, a cryptic Katter means The Hell’s Gate Dam on the Upper Burdekin river, Indigenous land title, and the Galilee rail project. He also wins Golden Litotes for incisive political understatement of the week when he says of the PM,
“This is not a decision-maker who has a lot of political acumen.”
Failing to deliver justice also is a government which clearly expects other dual nationals to step aside or resign while its own MPs may stay on while their cases are referred to the High Court. Turnbull’s own crowing over the “remarkable” failure of The Greens’ Scott Ludlum to check his dual citizenship hasn’t helped.
The hypocrisy and injustice of preferential treatment rankles cross-benchers.
An outraged Katter protests to Paul Bongiorno at “two sets of rules at work here: one for Matt Canavan, a less senior minister in the Nationals, and one for the number two in the Coalition government, Joyce.”
“I am quite frustrated with the Prime Minister” for retaining in cabinet Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash, adds Rebekah Sharkie.
Now Turnbull’s government risks losing its majority. Nick Xenophon Team MP, Rebekah Sharkie, MP for Mayo, also withdraws her support for the government, saying the PM needs to stand aside two of his team while The High Court deliberates on the eligibility of dual citizens Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce to be in parliament.
While by Sunday, nifty Nick the crypto-Liberal appears to tone down Sharkie’s threat, the Coalition’s majority is still uncertain. Even if it retains its dual citizens, can it stumble along all the way to October?
The path to this impasse reveals a government whose ineptitude is surpassed only by its gift for self-sabotage.
Along with its bungling of who should stay and who should stand down, must go its mismanagement of dual-Scot, Fiona-food-label Nash who is permitted to deploy delaying tactics which only further damage the government.
“As Senator Nash admitted, she has known since Monday that she was a dual citizen, yet waited until one minute before the Senate rose for a two-week break to inform the Parliament,” protests Labor Senator Katy Gallagher .
Labor is not bluffed. “We’ve never had a government before, ever since Federation, that has had to go to the High Court because they just weren’t sure if they had a majority,” says Tony Burke, in the best zinger of the week.
It’s a line which highlights how the reality of the government’s one seat majority dictates its special treatment of Joyce.
Not to be upstaged, professional attention-seeker, Pauline Hanson stages her own bizarre performance theatre by wearing a burqa to the senate, an act which earns her a powerful serve from Senate Leader AG George Brandis but which achieves her attention-seeking, anti-Muslim dog-whistling objective.
Brandis is open to criticism with his solely pragmatic concern that Hanson may alienate the Muslim community a first line of defence – “vital to law enforcement agencies”, although he does protest at her intent saying “to ridicule that community, to drive it into a corner, to mock its religious garments, is an appalling thing to do.”
Typically, Hanson dresses up her stunt in ways which further discredit her motives. “They’re spending $16m to put in more security because they’re worried about terrorism,” she smirks, ever eager to conflate burqa and terror.
Yet this is a misrepresentation. There was no security slip. She wears her senate pin. Hanson’s identity is checked by officials; she is granted access to her Senate seat because of who she is not what she was wearing. Whether or not she should have been permitted to take her seat given her clear intention to use the burqa as a cheap stunt is another matter. The same indulgence is not granted to other members who seek to bring in props.
Hanson’s not concerned with security, moreover, despite being happy to imply that Muslims are women-oppressing potential terrorists, a line not too far from some of Peter Dutton’s own remarks. Nor is she prompted to protest at any perceived subjugation of women by the garment. Rather, she is content to promote her own brand of toxic, mindless bigotry in the knowledge that any media attention at all can only help her publicity.
Never shy of publicity and not to be outbid by the crazy desperation manifest elsewhere in his government, Treasurer Scott Morrison makes his own magnificent contribution or debit entry, as Greg Jericho notes, by beginning the week accusing Labor of raising taxes and ending it with a bill to raise taxes.
Monday’s News Corp papers all obligingly relay his scaremongering that Labor’s taxes would cost the economy $167 billion based on Parliamentary Budget Office modelling, or so it seems, until Monday lunchtime.
“References in the media this morning to modelling being released today by the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) are incorrect. The analysis reported in the media this morning was not conducted by the PBO”, ” the PBO’s Jenny Wilkinson says in a rare slapdown of the Treasurer.
As Chris Bowen notes ScoMo’s modelling fails to take into account Labor plans to cut income taxes for low and middle-income earners. Instead it is the quick and dirty scare campaign figuring favoured by Morrison in election mode. Could his attack of madness be taken as a sign an early election is being prepared?
Whatever his motive, the Treasurer ignores the electorate’s interest in reducing income inequality in Australia. Morrison remains fixated on the same shonky formulaic debt and deficit nonsense of the Abbott years.
Team Turnbull members may well now rue their Schadenfreude, their jeering and sanctimonious hypocrisy at the time yet The Greens did resign on discovering their dual citizenship. Set a benchmark. As the week concludes, the Coalition has succeeded only in conveying its desperation, its poor judgement and lack of moral compass.
Even should the High Court, somehow, decide to permit Joyce to remain, saving the Coalition its wafer-thin majority the verdict may not be known until October and in the meantime it has done itself irreparable harm both to its legitimacy and to its credibility.
And just how long can a nation can be distracted with national security announceables on bollard placement and breathless details of new charges being laid on last year’s arsonists?