THE immediate political fate of Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Barnaby Joyce will be legally tested when his eligibility for parliament due to dual citizenship will be heard this week in the High Court.
Mr Joyce has since denounced his NZ citizenship which was revealed in mid-August due to his father being born there, while he was born in Australia.
But his eligibility under Section 44 of the Constitution will still be examined, along with six other cases of federal members, including Nationals deputy leader and NSW Senator Fiona Nash and Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan.
Mr Joyce has been holding the Resources and Northern Australia cabinet portfolios along with his agriculture and water roles since Senator Canavan decided to step down from the ministerial roles, with a cloud hanging over his head due to his dual Italian citizenship revelation.
The cases of all three Nationals members will be heard in the Court of Disputed Returns this week and a decision could potentially handed down on Friday, to help provide certainty for the government.
Mr Joyce is facing the potential of a by-election in his New England electorate if he’s ruled ineligible which could potentially see him face-off against arch political rival Tony Windsor.
Mr Windsor has not ruled out the option of running again for the seat he held for more than a decade as an independent, before retiring in 2013, where it was then won by the now Deputy Prime Minister.
He is also a party to Mr Joyce’s High Court case over citizenship.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has expressed confidence in the government’s legal advice, in the government members having not breached the constitution, as they were unaware of being foreign citizens.
Senior Nationals MP Michael McCormack said the High Court would ultimately make its decision and he was sure that his party members would be cleared, but he didn’t want to pre-empt anything that would be determined by the court.
Mr McCormack said Mr Joyce also had the “full support” of his party but some Labor party members had been “noticeably quiet” over the citizenship issue.
But he said the citizenship scandal was a “beltway issue” in regional Australia compared to others like energy prices and national security and farmers were more interested in talking about the lack of rain.
“It’s a side issue and you’ll get a couple of little quips people sort of bringing it up now and again but by and large they’re more interested in jobs and power prices than they are in that sort of thing,” he said.
“Even the most rusted on lefty, unionist, socialist would look at Barnaby Joyce and say, ‘He’s a fair dinkum, dinky-di, true-blue Aussie and Fiona Nash, similar.”
Asked if he thought Labor had a serious chance of winning New England if there was a by-election there, Mr Shorten said “We don't know what the High Court will decide”.
“Currently there is not a vacancy,” he said.
“Labor said there is a cloud over the constitutional eligibility of the Deputy Prime Minister.
“That matter will be determined by the High Court.
“I for one am not going to pre-empt what the High Court decides but I can't imagine taxpayers in New England or anywhere else will be very happy that because of the lack of attention to detail paid by Mr Joyce, by the lack of detail that he paid towards his constitutional eligibility, that taxpayers could be slugged with a big bill to pay for a by-election which shouldn't have to happen.
“Let's see what the High Court says to begin with.
“We're not going to start jumping to any hypothetical situations.”
Labor has used the citizenship scandal to pressure Mr Joyce and repeatedly questioned why he and Senator Nash have remained in cabinet, while Senator Canavan stood aside, amid the citizenship doubts, and also attacked the legitimacy of any government decisions made by them.
Labor has also accused the government and Mr Joyce of accelerating projects in his New England electorate, in the possible eventuality of a by-election.
SA Senator Nick Xenophon, One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts and Greens’ Senators Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters are the others facing the dual citizenship questions in the High Court this week.
If a by-election was held in New England, Nationals New England electorate council Chair Russell Webb says Mr Joyce would increase his lead.