EXCLUSIVE: Emails reveal Kiwi confusion over Barnaby Joyce citizenship status

Government officials in New Zealand did not initially believe Barnaby Joyce was a dual national until enquiries made by this blog led them to reassess their view, according to emails released under New Zealand’s Official Information Act.

Newly released correspondence about Joyce’s citizenship status within New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), published here for the first time, shows:

  • NZ government officials did not initially understand their own rules on nationality, leading them to believe Barnaby Joyce was NOT a citizen by descent and would have to “apply” to obtain it. A journalist from The Australian was given this inaccurate information when they made enquiries on 27 July.
  • The mistake was only corrected after this blog made enquiries to the DIA questioning their position on 3 August, requesting confirmation of my blog story about Joyce being a dual national based on 1948 citizenship laws.
  • Barnaby Joyce CC-BY Wikimedia
    Barnaby Joyce: Would have got away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky kids (Image: Wikimedia CC-BY)

    The first response drafted from the Department to me was set to repeat the line about citizens by descent having to “apply”, but then prompted further analysis at the Department.

  • One official noted that my request for clarification based on my blog post about Joyce was actually “a good question” (!). This is when the penny seems to have dropped that there was, in fact, an issue with Joyce’s citizenship (Fri 4 August 10.29am).
  • The issue was then “escalated to higher levels” as the Department came to realise the truth and the gravity of the situation, and officials scrambled to find previous policy documents outlining citizenship rules.
  • By the time Parliamentary Questions were submitted by NZ Labour MP Chris Hipkins (subsequently the subject of a bizarre Trans-Tasman conspiracy), DIA officials were already aware of the potential fallout. The questions seem to have had very little to do with Joyce’s situation finally being exposed, though there was recognition the questions were “linked” to the issue.
  • Fairfax media also got in touch with the DIA and vigorously pursued the story – though by that time the Department seems to have adopted a tactic of delaying the release of information until the situation could be clarified and confirmed.
  • An internal briefing was prepared for the NZ Minister of Foreign Affairs on Thursday 10 August, titled: “Australian Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, potentially a New Zealand Citizen”, stating the DIA preliminary view that Joyce was in fact a NZ citizen. Joyce was then informed of his dual nationality that evening.
  • The rest we now know.

See the emails

Download the full document (35 pages)

The initial response drafted by DIA as a reply to my first enquiry (wrongly) stated:

If a child is born in Australia to a parent who is a New Zealand citizen by birth, they can apply to be a New Zealand citizen by descent. Applications must be made to the New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs. Citizens by descent have all the rights of New Zealand citizenship.

When the response was sent to colleagues for review, somebody suggested going further, saying:

Add in one more line so it is clear an action must take place?

An unidentified person on the email chain then points out the enquiry raises “a good question”, citing the relevant NZ legislation, which another official then agrees with.

NZ DIA OIA screenshot featured image

The written correspondence ceases at this point – presumably as the issue is escalated verbally with senior officials.

The emails will raise internal questions at the DIA about why officials misunderstood their own rules and gave out misleading advice to journalists.

The early advice from officials directly contrasts the subsequent clarification by the Department that Barnaby Joyce was in fact a New Zealand citizen, which plummeted the Australian Government into chaos and led to a number of other MPs being questioned about their citizen by descent status.

It should be noted that even if Barnaby Joyce had been required to apply to become a citizen by descent, as was initially thought, he would still likely have been caught out by Section 44 of the Australian Constitution due to having the “rights and privileges” of a New Zealand citizen.

The correspondence was requested under New Zealand Official Information Act rules by a New Zealand citizen and subsequently passed on to this blog. Some of it has been redacted by the DIA.

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