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The Breakdown: Australia’s No. 2 Can Claim New Zealand Citizenship. Too Bad for Him.

Under New Zealand’s Citizenship Act of 1948, someone can be a New Zealand citizen by descent, even without ever applying to be one.

A government website says: “If you were born overseas and at least one of your parents is a New Zealand citizen by birth or grant, you are an NZ citizen by descent. To get yourself an NZ passport, you need to register your citizenship.”

New Zealand’s prime minister, Bill English, has weighed in, saying, “unwittingly or not,” Mr. Joyce is a New Zealand citizen. Mr. English said it was up to Australia to decide what implications that had.

What does Mr. Joyce say?

That he’s not a New Zealander.

Asked about the matter previously, Mr. Joyce said he was on solid ground: He definitely wasn’t a Kiwi. But New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs, which issues passports, was asked to investigate further by the country’s left-leaning Labour Party.

On Monday, New Zealand’s internal affairs minister, Peter Dunne, told Sky News that anyone in Mr. Joyce’s position was considered a New Zealander.

“New Zealand law is clear. We’ve had this particular case vetted by our Crown Law Office,” Mr. Dunne said.

So who’s right?

The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, seemed to think the matter was not so clear-cut. He told the Australian Parliament on Monday that he thought the High Court would uphold Mr. Joyce’s eligibility and that in the meantime Mr. Joyce would remain in office.

A spokesman for the internal affairs minister reiterated the New Zealand government’s position when asked on Monday.

“If Mr. Joyce came to New Zealand right now, he’d be perfectly eligible to a New Zealand passport,” said the spokesman, Rob Eaddy.

That fact is probably cold comfort for Mr. Joyce, who disputes the New Zealand government’s finding and said he was leaving it for the Australian courts to decide.

Why is the Joyce case important?

As well as being the deputy prime minister, the No. 2 elected official in Australia and the highest-ranking politician so far to become embroiled in the citizenship scandal, Mr. Joyce is the key to the government’s majority in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of Parliament.

The government holds that majority by just one vote, which explains the pressure ramping up from the opposition for Mr. Joyce to step down until the matter is resolved, and the insistence from Mr. Turnbull that Mr. Joyce will stay.

Australia is also embroiled in a debate about same-sex marriage, which Mr. Joyce has opposed.

What happens next?

If the High Court decides Mr. Joyce is ineligible to be in Parliament, a by-election would be held to select a new candidate for his seat, said George Williams, the dean of the law school at the University of New South Wales.

In the meantime, the government would lose its one-seat majority and would be forced to seek support from independents to pass legislation.

What is the citizenship rule?

Under Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, anyone with dual citizenship can’t sit in Parliament.

Mr. Eaddy, the internal affairs minister’s spokesman, said that clause put Australia at odds with countries including the United States, Britain and Canada, where multiple citizenship is permitted for elected representatives.

Can Australia change it?

Mr. Turnbull wants the High Court to “clarify the limits on the operation” of the section of the Constitution in question.

“With around half of all Australians having a foreign-born parent, and with many foreign nations having citizenship laws which confer citizenship by descent, regardless of place of birth, the potential for many, possibly millions, of Australians unknowingly having dual citizenship is considerable,” Mr. Turnbull wrote in a letter to the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, on Monday.

How is the Australian Parliament taking all this?

About how you’d expect.

What about the reaction from New Zealand?

Are there more accidental New Zealanders in Australia’s Parliament?

Mr. Eaddy, the spokesman for the internal affairs minister, said he didn’t know whether other Australian lawmakers might be eligible for New Zealand citizenship, as the minister had been asked about it only in relation to Mr. Joyce’s case. But he said it was possible.

“You’re going to have politicians trawling through their lineage right now,” he said.

During Australian parliamentary Question Time on Monday, Christopher Pyne, a Liberal member, named four Labor Party lawmakers who he said had “much worse cases” of citizenship uncertainty.

Source: NYT > World

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