Australian court verdict pending on deputy leader’s future

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s High Court ended a hearing Thursday on whether the deputy prime minister will be disqualified from Parliament for breaching a constitutional ban on dual citizens becoming lawmakers, a verdict that could cost the government power.

The seven judges heard three days of testimony in the cases of Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and six senators who said they did not know they were dual nationals when they ran for election last year.

The constitution bans dual nationals from Parliament, a prohibition that critics have condemned as outdated in a country where almost half the people are immigrants or have an overseas-born parent.

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel acknowledged on Thursday the cases were urgent, but did not indicate when she and her fellow judges would deliver their verdicts. She was to update lawyers on Tuesday.

The verdicts are crucial for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative ruling coalition, which could lose its single-seat majority in the House of Representatives, where governments are formed.

The other lawmakers under a cloud are senators — including two government ministers — who would be replaced by members of the same party without elections that could alter the balance of political power.

Joyce could run in a by-election, having renounced the New Zealand citizenship he inherited from his father. But with the government unpopular in opinion polls, voters in his rural electorate could take the opportunity to throw both the deputy prime minister and his administration out of office.

Parliament resumes after a month-long break on Monday, when five of the seven lawmakers are to take their seats. Two have resigned.

The lawmakers were found to be dual citizens as media scrutiny escalated after a minor Greens party senator declared in July that he was a New Zealander and had been illegally elected three times over a decade.

He is one of the two senators who have accepted that they were ineligible for election and resigned. But the court will still rule on their eligibility under a section of the constitution that is rarely tested.

Asked about the constitutional ban on dual citizens in Parliament, visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told The Associated Press in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday that “It’s a matter for the High Court. Our constitution is interpreted by the High Court and that’s why we took the case to the High Court so that they could provide a clarity around this section of the constitution.”


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