So… Is The Government Fucked Or What?
It hasn't been a great week for Malcolm Turnbull.
This afternoon the High Court ruled five federal politicians were ineligible to serve in parliament because they were dual citizens when they were elected. Most of the politicians affected are in the Senate, which won’t impact the day-to-day running of the parliament too much, but the expulsion of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce on the grounds of his New Zealand citizenship is sending shockwaves through the government.
At a press conference held after the High Court released its judgement Joyce said he “respected the verdict of the court” and offered his support to his Nationals colleague, Senator Fiona Nash, who was also ruled ineligible.
Joyce also said that “in my gut I knew this was the way it was going to go”, which is a stark contrast to the confidence exuded by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull whenever he spoke about the case.
According to the PM, Joyce was “qualified to sit in the house and the High Court will so hold”.
Writs for a by-election in Joyce’s seat of New England will now be issued, and the most likely election date is December 2.
How Does This Impact The Government?
At the last federal election the Coalition won 76 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives, giving it a majority of exactly one seat. Now that Joyce has been kicked out of parliament, the government has technically lost it’s majority. But that doesn’t mean it’s lost power.
For the Coalition to actually lose government a motion of no confidence would have to pass the House of Representatives. Independent MP Cathy McGowan has already said she would not support any moves to bring down the government. It’s likely Queensland MP Bob Katter would also resist such a move. That means the government will limp along in a wounded state, but stay in power.
However, the loss of Joyce means the government could struggle to pass legislation until the New England by-election. The Coalition will need to secure an additional vote to ensure bills can get through the House of Representatives. There’s one full week of sittings in the House to get through before December 2, so keep your eyes peeled for sneaky procedural drama.
Will Barnaby Joyce Win The By-Election?
Between 2001 and 2013 the seat of New England was held by independent MP Tony Windsor. After the Labor minority government of 2010-13, Windsor resigned from politics and paved the way for Joyce to enter the House of Representatives.
But at the last federal election Windsor threw his hat back in the ring and ran for his old seat. Joyce ended up beating him with 58 percent of the two-candidate-preferred vote. If Windsor ran again it would make the race pretty interesting, especially since the Labor party historically hasn’t performed well in the area.
Luckily for Joyce, Windsor announced this afternoon he wasn’t going to run in New England. Barring some kind of high-profile third-party candidate like Sophie Monk it’s likely Joyce will be returned to parliament in December and it’ll be business as usual. How boring.
But hey, it’s Australian politics and anything can happen. Joyce, for his part, told assembled journalists in Tamworth today he was going to “work hard and stay humble”.