Minister Julie Bishop with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Minisyer Christopher Pyne during question time at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 16 August 2017. Fedpol. Photo: Andrew Meares Acting Prime Minister Julie Bishop has conceded some decisions taken before former ministers Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash were disqualified are being re-examined to ensure they are legally sound, even as Mr Joyce dared Labor to mount a court challenge.
But Ms Bishop denied the decisions in question amounted to more than just a few.
Mr Joyce, who is fighting for the New England seat he thought he’d won in July 2016, claimed he was legitimately able to sit in the parliament and was fully empowered to make decisions as a cabinet minister right up until the moment the court ruled otherwise.
But lawyers engaged by the ALP have taken a different view, advising there was a high likelihood that the work the ineligible pair has done over the past year will end up before the courts.
The stand-off means further litigation over the government’s actions is possible, even assuming Mr Joyce is returned, as expected, in the December 2 byelection.
As a senator, Ms Nash has lost her position, with that prize going to the next elected candidate in the NSW senate race, expected to be Liberal Hollie Hughes.
However, in another potential headache for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Ms Hughes’ likely promotion has touched off a bitter factional war, with the NSW right incensed, claiming her preselection had been “farcical”.
There have also been dark warnings that as a recently appointed member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, she may have her own constitutional problems after becoming a Commonwealth employee.
As the government’s pain lingers, pressure is mounting on Mr Turnbull to release the legal advice he used to justify keeping Mr Joyce and Ms Nash in cabinet after their dual citizenship put them in conflict with the sole allegiance requirement set out in section 44 of the constitution.
It was during this period that the ministerial decisions now being reviewed were made..
With that legitimacy cloud, opinion polls moving in the wrong direction, and tensions flaring within, Ms Bishop moved to reassure Coalition MPs that the situation was recoverable, noting that there was still 18 months to go before the next election.
Her comments were an attempt to steady the listing Turnbull ship after last Friday’s bombshell High Court ruling in which five parliamentarians, including the two cabinet ministers – both Nationals – were ejected.
An internecine war of words has broken out within the Coalition, as angry Liberals grumble about their junior partner’s administrative shortcomings that began with three Nationals cabinet ministers being hauled before the nation’s top court and ended in the government’s humiliation, its absolute majority extinguished.
Amid the backbiting, Mr Joyce reminded Liberals that it was the Nationals who retained their seats and added one at the 2016 election while the Liberals went backwards, reducing the Coalition’s majority to a single seat.
“We were just getting clear air over energy before this,” said one frustrated minister, conceding that last week’s “politicised” union raids were another “unhelpful distraction”.
Of the three ministers before the High Court, only Senator Matt Canavan’s election was upheld despite the fact that he was the only one of the trio to resign his ministry pending the court’s adjudication.
Ms Bishop said claims of a large number of ministerial decisions being compromised was based on a misunderstanding of how they were reached.
“It’s a collective decision making process. Cabinet has made the majority of the decisions. Appointments, for example, made by the Governor-General and executive council were signed off by the Governor-General on advice by the cabinet,” she said.
However, there were exceptions.
“The Attorney-General [George Brandis] said that we’ll look at those, but the vast majority of decisions are made by cabinet,” she said.
Mr Joyce, who says he now speaks with the freedom of a candidate rather than a minister, was more bullish.
“If the Labor Party wants to challenge a whole heap of decisions to make poor people poorer and to show they’ve got absolutely no vision for regional Australia, go right ahead fellas,” Mr Joyce told ABC’s Radio National on Monday morning.
Labor’s advice from senior silk Matt Collins, QC, and barrister Matt Albert says the decisions of both disqualified ministers are now at risk under section 64 of the constitution, which requires ministers to be members of Parliament.
Ms Bishop also dismissed the calls to release the Solicitor-General’s advice on which Mr Turnbull had controversially retained Mr Joyce and Senator Nash in cabinet.
Labor believes the advice was “far less” conclusive in its contention that the Nationals had been properly qualified than the government repeatedly implied.
Throughout the period of uncertainty leading up to the ruling, Mr Turnbull, Mr Brandis, and other ministers expressed unalloyed confidence in their eligibility, with Mr Turnbull even declaring in Parliament that Mr Joyce was qualified to stay “and the High Court will so hold”.
With that position now in tatters, the government insists the legal advice provided by the Solicitor-General was confidential.
Labor’s Tony Burke said it was clear the government had something to hide.
“I think there’s a reason why they never revealed the Solicitor-General’s advice. I don’t believe for a minute it was as strong as they were claiming,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program.
But Ms Bishop defended the Prime Minister and Attorney-General.
“They took the advice of the Solicitor-General and based on that advice, they [the ministers] remained in their positions,” Ms Bishop stated.
“Governments generally don’t usually release such legal advice and I would follow precedence in this case and not release it. That’s the standard practice.”
Ms Bishop played down any tensions between Liberals and Nationals over the citizenship crisis as passing.
“There will be issues from time to time, but like in any family, you get over them and you move on.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.