Aussie deputy PM and 'accidental Kiwi' drops New Zealand citizenship

Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce revealed his New Zealand connection on Monday, sparking calls for him to stand down as it is illegal for dual citizens to sit in the Australian parliament.
Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce revealed his New Zealand connection on Monday, sparking calls for him to stand down as it is illegal for dual citizens to sit in the Australian parliament.PHOTO: EPA

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's "accidental Kiwi"and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce renounced his New Zealand citizenship on Tuesday (Aug 15) amid sheep jokes, Hollywood taunts and conspiracy theories about a left-wing plot to topple Canberra's conservative government.

Mr Joyce, 50, revealed his New Zealand connection on Monday, and it sparked calls for him to stand down as it is illegal for dual citizens to have a seat in the Australian Parliament.

By Tuesday afternoon, Mr Joyce told Parliament that the authorities in Wellington had said that he could renounce the New Zealand citizenship that he unknowingly acquired from his Dunedin-born father.

He said: "We received verbal communication from New Zealand before question time that has now been accepted, and we're looking forward to the written advice turning up pronto."

The development does not mean the end of the bizarre affair, which threatens Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's one-seat majority in Parliament.

But Mr Joyce will hope it bolsters the case to remain in his job - and preserving the government's wafer-thin buffer - until the High Court determines if he is eligible to sit as an elected official.

KIWI FRUIT

Mr Joyce is best known internationally for threatening to euthanise Hollywood superstar Johnny Depp's dogs Pistol and Boo, when they were brought into the country illegally.

Depp's former wife Amber Heard, who kept the dogs after they split up, was revelling in his discomfort. On Tuesday, in a Twitter post, she said: "When Barnaby Joyce said 'no one is above the law', I didn't realise he meant New Zealand law." She added: "To comfort Mr. Joyce in his hour of need, I have sent him a box of New Zealand's finest kiwi fruit (assuming this passes his biosecurity laws)." 

Mr Joyce, who Depp once said "looks somehow inbred with a tomato", has long cultivated an image as a straight-talking Aussie bushman, usually sporting a wide-brimmed Akubra hat and elastic-sided farm boots.

The Australian leader was "shellshocked" to learn last week of automatically qualifying as a New Zealander even though he had never applied for citizenship.

New Zealand officials said queries from Australian journalists prompted last week's discovery about Mr Joyce's status.

However, Mr Turnbull said it was "outrageous and improper" that New Zealand Labour MP Chris Hipkins also admitted asking questions about the issue last week after talks with someone from the Australian Labor Party.

Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar alleged a conspiracy between the Australian and New Zealand centre-left parties, likening it to Cold War espionage.

"Not since the old days of worrying about Soviet Russia, that is how long since we have had to worry about these sorts of things," he told Sky News.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went further, casting doubt on whether Canberra could work with New Zealand Labour if it won a general election scheduled for next month.

"I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia," she told reporters.

Her remarks were labelled "false claims" by NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ardern, who lodged a formal complaint with the Australian High Commission in Wellington.

'BAA-NABY'

The Sydney Morning Herald, referring to the turmoil, said Mr Turnbull's centre-right coalition government was "on the brink", while The Australian ran a report with the headline: "PM under a long white cloud." The Maori name for New Zealand is the land of the long, white cloud

Other newspapers chose to ramp up the trans-Tasman rivalry with New Zealanders, who Australians like to characterise as sheep-loving country bumpkins.

Brisbane's Courier Mai ran a headline that said: "Ewe have got to be joking... it could be haka-la-vista for Barnaby", and Melbourne's Herald Sun chipped in with"All Black for Baa-naby".

The Adelaide Advertiser asked "Why so sheepish Barnaby?", while Sydney's Daily Telegraph dubbed Joyce "Barnaby choice, bro" - a play on the politician's name and a popular Kiwi phrase.

A tweet from the Northern Territory News harked back to the long list of Kiwi icons claimed by Australia.

"Still shocked about this Barnaby Joyce controversy. We always considered him as Aussie as Russell Crowe, Phar Lap and Split Enz," it said.