Business should expect a period of policy uncertainty in the wake of the “Citizenship Seven” ruling by the High Court today that found five MPs and Senators, including Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce, ineligible to sit in the Federal Parliament.
With the loss of Joyce, the Government has lost its majority in the House of Representatives, down to 75 members of the Liberal National Coalition. Luckily for the Government, the independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan earlier today said that she would side with the Government if necessary.
Any Member of the House of Representatives foun
d ineligible will be replaced through a by-election. This is an out of cycle election held in an individual electorate. New England, Barnaby Joyce’s electorate, has just had its by-election scheduled for December 2nd. When a Senate seat is vacated, the relevant State Government chooses a replacement. It is convention that the State Parliament choose a replacement from the same political party as the retiring member.
Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce and Deputy Nationals Leader Senator Fiona Nash are the two biggest names to be caught out as ineligible but they are joined by One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts, and Greens Senators Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters. Both Greens Senators have already resigned from Parliament, though Larissa Waters is likely to return to Parliament after she has sorted out her citizenship status.
Now that Malcolm Roberts has been found ineligible we might find out the truth as to the rumours that he will be replaced by One Nation Leader Pauline Hanson’s sister. Roberts has announced he will contest the seat of Ipswich at the next Queensland state election.
Now that Matt Canavan’s eligibility to stand for election in the Italian Parliament has been put to rest, he will step back into his role as Minister for Northern Australia and Resources immediately. We expect he will be enjoying a glass of grappa this evening with Mama Canavan.
Nick Xenophon was also found eligible, but unlike Canavan he’s already packed up his office and planned an exit to another parliament for which he is eminently eligible – South Australia. Xenophon’s replacement in the Senate has not been named. But following convention, we can expect a member of the NXT (Nick Xenophon Team) to be appointed to his seat.
With NXT holding the balance of power in the Senate it will be interesting to see who takes on leadership of the party. Xenophon is leaving big shoes to fill. The question on everyone’s lips will be whether the party can survive federally without its namesake at the helm.
The immediate implications of the decision are that the Federal Coalition has now lost the balance of power in the House of Representatives. This will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for it to push through legislation in the remaining weeks of this year. Labor, with the support of minor parties in the Lower House (Katter Australia and NXT) will be able to delay, change or overturn legislation that it does not support. Generally speaking it is likely to play havoc in the lower house as it will have the Government on the back foot. Expect a more raucous question time that usual.
Longer-term, the Government may not have an easy way forward. Writs for a by-election in the seat of New England were issued today. However, there is no guarantee that Joyce will be returned. Although former independent member for New England, Tony Windsor, announced today he would not contest the seat, it is by no means a certainty for Joyce. The electorate could easily decide to use this by-lection as an opportunity to send a message to the Government. Speculation around Joyce’s personal life in this very conservative farming area could prove very damaging to his chances of success.
Malcolm Turnbull will take on Joyce’s role as Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources in the interim. Nash’s portfolio is to be divided. Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield will take over Regional Communications and Minister for Infrastructure Darren Chester will add Regional Development and Local Government and Territories to his portfolio. If Nash can resolve her citizenship status she is likely to be reappointed to the Senate by the NSW Parliament, but she is yet to formally announce her intentions.
With Prime Minister Turnbull due to visit Israel next week for the 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will likely take the reins as Acting Prime Minister. The Coalition will certainly be hoping for a quiet Christmas following the New England by-election.
by Emma Dunn, Senior Account Executive, Powell Tate Australia