POLITICS

The NZ 'Conspiracy' That Appears To Be Just Another Stuff-Up

The Government wants the ALP to come clean about its potential role in exposing Barnaby Joyce's dual citizenship.

15/08/2017 1:38 PM AEST | Updated 15/08/2017 3:24 PM AEST
Alex Ellinghausen/Fairfax
Julie Bishop on Bill Shorten: "He needs to reveal his involvement in what is treacherous behaviour."

CANBERRA -- Julie Bishop has taken a major shot at Bill Shorten, describing the ALP's potential involvement with the New Zealand Labour Party in exposing Barnaby Joyce's dual citizenship as "highly unethical" and "treacherous behaviour".

Joyce, the second most senior politician in Australia, discovered last Thursday after advice from the NZ High Commission that he is a NZ citizen by reason of descent and he is holding onto his ministerial duties while his case goes to the High Court for determination.

Joyce has now revealed to parliament he sought to renounce his New Zealand citizenship over the weekend and has been verbally told he is no longer a Kiwi. He is hoping written confirmation will "turn up pronto".

Bishop and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have also elevated the issue to one of a diplomatic stoush between Australia and New Zealand, one the Foreign Minister claims puts the Trans-Tasman relationship "at risk". Turnbull also claims there has been a "conspiracy" between the ALP and New Zealand Labour.

Bishop, in a Parliament House press conference, urged Shorten to come clean on who he "put up" to the "dirty task" of getting NZ Labour to ask question relating to Joyce's citizenship. NZ Labour frontbencher Chris Hipkins asked a general question on citizenship in the NZ parliament last week based on "personal curiosity" and a query from an unknown person in Australian Labor.

Bishop told reporters in Canberra: "I explicitly call into question Bill Shorten's ethics."

"I do call on Bill Shorten to name that person and he needs to reveal his involvement in what is treacherous behaviour.

"This is highly unethical, at least. But, more importantly, puts at risk the relationship between the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government."

The Foreign Minister has also indicated she would not trust a Labour government in New Zealand that, she said, "had been used by the Australian Labor Party to seek to undermine the Australian Government". The nation across the Tasman Sea goes to the polls next month.

The NZ Labour leader Jacinda Ardern - who has not been happy the question was asked in the NZ parliament - has hit back, diplomatically, on social media.

"I value our relationship with the Australian Govt highly," she tweeted. "I won't let disappointing & false claims stand in the way of that relationship."

This then led to a statement where Ardern described Bishop's claims as "highly regrettable". The Labour Leader is going the Australian High Commission later on Tuesday to "express disappointment".

Turnbull told the joint government party room on Tuesday there was "conspiracy" between Australian and NZ Labor/Labour parties and accused Shorten of "sneakiness", "dishonesty" and "disloyalty".

The key issue here is that Bishop's attack on Shorten directly contradicts the New Zealand Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne, who has described as "utter nonsense" any claim that NZ Labour was an "instigator" in this citizenship drama.

Bishop revealed has not spoken to the New Zealand Minister about Barnaby Joyce and would not say if she had spoken to anyone in the New Zealand High Commission in light of the revelations.

The Foreign Minister is adamant the focus should be on Labor and Labour.

Asked about Minister Dunne's version of events, Bishop responded, "I don't accept that."

"The New Zealand Labor leader confirmed that a Labor member of Parliament was contacted by an unnamed Labor member here in Australia. Bill Shorten must reveal the name of that member."

The question was then put to Bishop that Labor and the New Zealand Parliament were doing what Barnaby Joyce should have done in the first place and checked his own citizenship given that he had a New Zealand father.

The Foreign Minister did not accept that proposition.

"If Labor had any interest in resolving the uncertainties that arise from Section 44 of the constitution - and might I point out again that there are many uncertainties involving their members of Parliament that should be pursued - if he had any interest in resolving the uncertainties, wouldn't he have raised it in the Australian Parliament?" Bishop said.

"Wouldn't he have raised it in a letter to the Prime Minister?

"Why involve a foreign political party and a foreign Parliament to resolve what is an Australian issue? I find his conduct utterly unacceptable."

Labor's Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong has now dubbed the Barnaby Joyce 'conspiracy' a 'Kiwis under the bed' scare campaign.

She's accused Bishop of risking relations with a close friend and ally "simply to distract attention from the government crisis caused by Barnaby's Joyce's failure to renounce his New Zealand citizenship."

"Australia's long and enduring friendship with New Zealand deserves better than a cheap attack by a government under pressure, seeking to divert attention from its domestic political problems," she said in statement.

The Turnbull Government is attempting to turn attention to Labor and what questions may or may not be hovering over its own MPs.

Five Labor members have been named: Justine Keay, Susan Lamb, Brendan O'Connor, Maria Vamvakinou and Tony Zappia.

"There are serious questions are now being raised about some Labor politicians," Attorney-General George Brandis said on Tuesday. "And Mr Shorten has not been forthright about this and he ought to be".

Labor is accusing the Government of distraction. Tony Burke has defended Labor's administration processes as robust. But the opposition is refusing to release documents relating to the five Labor MPs, leaving the party open to government accusations of "stonewalling".

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