BEHIND the initial media circus about citizenship eligibility of some parliamentarians, there is a potentially much more significant issue looming.
What happens if the High Court finds one or more of these politicians to be ineligible?
All bar one of the parliamentarians facing the High Court are Senators – New England Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce.
There are accepted procedures in relation to replacing ineligible Senators.
The most recent disqualifications of Family First’s Bob Day and One Nation’s Rod Culleton demonstrate that the vote is simply recounted and usually delivers a replacement from the same ticket on the ballot paper.
The key and most significant issue arising from the citizenship saga is the legitimacy of the election of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Joyce who holds a Lower House seat.
This means there is no redundancy to the ineligibility of a candidate as exists in the Senate with its ticketed nominations.
There has been speculation that there would be a by-election if Mr Joyce is found ineligible, but this is inconsistent with the resolution of an ineligible candidate used in the Senate and that described in the electoral guidelines.
If his election is set aside because he is deemed ineligible then it is not as simple as the seat being vacated midterm because he was never legally elected.
There was a valid ballot and if Mr Joyce is found by the High Court to be ineligible, there should be a recount of the ballot and his preferences distributed as if he were not on the ballot.
This is the process described by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in relation to ineligible nominations.
Some people may argue it is just not fair that Mr Joyce be precluded this way, but these are the rules and it would occur entirely due to the lack of attention to long standing rules about citizenship by the Nationals.
It’s no accident that three of the current citizenship cases are from one party.
It is an indictment on their ability to govern the nation that they cannot even manage themselves to comply with laws that are clearly explained and have been in place for over one hundred years.
The Greens and One Nation are barely if at all better in this regard.
It highlights an endemic lack of respect for our Constitution and smacks of political opportunism particularly in these smaller parties.
In the end, there are specific and long-standing rules around eligibility to sit in our parliament and the Nationals have, more profoundly than any other party, failed to comply with them.
If a person seeks to hold office then it is incumbent upon them to comply with the rules and the precedents that have been established in relation to “citizenship by descent” entitlements.
There is and should be no scope for exceptions to these rules simply because someone happens to be the Deputy Prime Minister.
Members of the Liberal Party should be particularly angry with their Coalition partner.
This mistake could well bring down the government.
But it is fair to say that the most people in the electorate think the rules in Section 44 are ridiculous and out of date.
The sentiment is generally a bit of ‘so what if he is entitled to NZ citizenship, does it really matter?’
In truth most people in the electorate are sick of the circus and just want the government to get on with running the country as drought, high energy costs and limited economic growth bite hard.
Dave Mailler did run as the CountryMinded candidate at the last federal election for the seat of New England.
But the most likely outcome of a recount, if the High Court ruled that way if Mr Joyce was disqualified, would see Tony Windsor elected.
The most significant outcome of a recount for our candidate would depend on whether he benefitted from any of Mr Joyce’s first preferences, which would be counted as direct votes to Dave Mailler.
We have no indication of what this would be and given Dave’s limited campaign impact in the media, with the media hype around Joyce and Windsor and our limited time and finances, we would not expect a big variation.
This would also affect the AEC candidate reimbursement for electoral expenses which is paid on number of votes.
Again we don’t expect any significant variation in the CountryMinded result.
I guess we would expect a small upside, but limited if at all.
But this is of course all speculation given the High Court has not ruled yet.
We will watch the determination of the High Court with great interest.