In defence of Barnaby

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Former Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce (screen shot via YouTube).

Barnaby Joyce's High Court expulsion from Parliament is just a byproduct of the Constitution's racist Section 44, says John Passant. 

I AM GOING to defend (former) Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Nationals, Barnaby Joyce. Sort of.

On Friday, the High Court shunted Joyce from his New England seat in the House of Representatives. His "crime" was that his father was a New Zealander and under their laws, Joyce too was a New Zealander until he renounced it. He only did so recently, well after the election on 2 July 2016.

The High Court is nothing if not an equal opportunity shunter. They also got rid of two Greens Senators, Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters and the One Nation rightwing nut job, Malcolm Roberts. Deputy Leader of the Nationals Senator Fiona Nash made up the gang of five Section 44 rejects.

Section 44, in crude terms and among other things, prevents a person with foreign citizenship (which carries with it overtones of divided loyalties and allegiances) being elected to the Federal Parliament. 

Joyce was born in Tamworth and his whole political life has been spent serving Australian capitalism first and foremost. The fact his father was born in New Zealand – and that that country legislatively deems the children of New Zealand citizens to themselves be citizens – was enough to sink Joyce.

We need to be clear. Section 44 is an expression of the racist views of the ruling class in the 1890s and its reflection in the white working class. Its aim was to exclude non-British people. The same class of people who gave us the Constitution gave us the White Australia policy.

Interestingly the concept of an Australian citizen only became a reality in 1984; before that, we were British subjects. 

As the National Archives state:

'Throughout the 1960s, Australian citizens were still required to declare their nationality as British. The term "Australian nationality" had no official recognition or meaning until the Act was amended in 1969 and renamed the Citizenship Act. This followed a growing sense of Australian nationalism and the declining importance for Australians of the British Empire. In 1973 the Act was renamed the Australian Citizenship Act. It was not until 1984 that Australian citizens ceased to be British subjects.'

On the basis of this very recent High Court decision and also the 1992 decision of Sykes v Cleary, many of our pre-Second World War politicians, including some prime ministers, in retrospect, would have been ineligible to sit in the Parliament. But they were white and racism was a major narrative of Australian capitalism at the time — along with war. Some things never change.

A friend has suggested that Joyce knew he was a Kiwi many years ago. My friend was in a corporate box with her NZ husband, also named Joyce, along with Barnaby and his wife, and others. Her husband and Barnaby spent the night toasting each other with whisky and calling themselves Kiwi cousins.

So what that Joyce had New Zealand citizenship? So what, even if he knew he was from New Zealand the first time he stood for election? Section 44 is a racist hangover from the past that is determining our present and future.  

Joyce won his seat. A good majority of people in his electorate voted for him. It is called democracy. Of course, democracy is limited but the simple fact is, he won the support of a good majority of those in New England.

Section 44 is racist – even though now it has led to the expulsion of a racist from the Parliament – and it is anti-democratic. The Left cannot and should not support its use — least of all should we be celebrating the fact Joyce has been shunted from Parliament. Should we be celebrating the political demise of Greens like Scott Ludlum and Larissa Waters too?

The other problem is that Joyce’s demise will be short-lived. He will romp it in in the by-election on 2 December.

Of course, not renouncing New Zealand citizenship before the election shows a level of incompetence entirely at home in the Turnbull Government. It is also producing a political fallout in the Senate, with Fiona Nash being replaced by the next in the countback — a person who just happens to be a Liberal, not a National. 

Similarly, there is a falling out of the political thieves in Pauline Hanson's One Nation. The next in line on countback to take the Senate position has proclaimed his intention not to resign to make way for the PHONies to re-appoint Malcolm "Tin Foil Hat" Roberts.

Roberts will stand in the Queensland State election for the seat of Ipswich. He will need more than his previous 77 votes and a strong flow of preferences from Pauline Hanson to win the seat.

While he may win a substantial percentage of the vote he will not, I hope, win the seat. However, his potentially high vote should worry us all. It exposes a deep alienation with Australia’s politics and politicians that such a conspiracy-laden nutcase, for whom facts are a disease, could win significant support.

The straw-clutching Left has been proclaiming that the Coalition Government has lost its majority. Some have even called for the Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove to sack the Government. This is nonsense. It is anti-democratic that an appointed figurehead has so much potential power. We on the Left are for democracy – however limited – not for unelected throwbacks to feudal times destroying it.   

The Government has 74 votes plus the Speaker Tony Smith in the event of a tied vote. In any event, Independent Cathy McGowan and Rebekha Sharkie, a Nick Xenophon Team MP, will support the Government on confidence and supply matters. They might vote with Labor on a banking royal commission, which would be a major defeat for the Turnbull Government but not of itself enough to bring the Government down. They will not support Labor on reversing the penalty rate cuts.

The way to defeat Barnaby Joyce and his right-wing politics is not to celebrate his ouster on a racist and anti-democratic constitutional technicality and think that will somehow change the long-term reactionary dynamic of Australian politics.

The way to defeat the likes of Barnaby Joyce and their right-wing politics is to organise ourselves on the streets and in the workplaces to stop the rotten Turnbull Government from implementing any more of its rotten neoliberal agenda.

The union movement must relearn the traditions of class struggle and strike action. In doing that we can drag Australia back towards the Left after 42 years of moving further and further to the Right, economically and politically, and help end their decades-long class war on us.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016) are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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