New Zealand Ministers and officials imposed a heavy security lid once they realised that they had information which could, in effect, topple the Australian Government.
That extended to not even telling Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop even though she was at the same meeting last week as New Zealand Foreign Minister, Gerry Brownlee.
The realisation that Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was a New Zealand citizen and therefore not eligible to serve in the Australian Parliament came after questions were asked last week of both the Department of Internal Affairs and the Minister, Peter Dunne.
The first questions to the Department of Internal Affairs, early last week were from a blogger who named Joyce. (The blogger has now identified himself as a British born Australian,William Summers, and says he made his inquiry on August 3. His report is here.)
If Joyce was a New Zealand citizen and therefore not eligible to serve in the Australian Parliament, it would deprive the Turnbull Government of its one seat majority.
New Zealand officials did not at first realise what a timebomb the question was.
Then the Sydney Morning Herald asked similar questions without naming Joyce.
But when Labour MP Chris Hipkins, also filed a written Parliamentary Question (without naming Joyce) on Wednesday which went, as is the usual practice, to Dunne’s office and then, again as is usual practice on citizenship questions to Dunne, to the Department of Internal Affairs, alarm bells began to ring.
Unlike media questions, there was a formal obligation on Internal Affairs to answer Hipkins’ questions.
Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern says that Hipkins had been asked to ask the question by an acquaintance in the Australian Labor Party.
The Sydney Morning Herald has named him as Marcus Ganley, a New Zealander who is Chief of Staff to Labor’s Senate Leader, Penny Wong.
In New Zealand Ganley worked for John Tamihere, Michael Cullen, Helen Clark and Phil Goff — he would have extensive contacts within New Zealand Labour.
But Ardern (citing comments from Dunne) maintained yesterday that it was the journalists’ questions that triggered the Internal Affairs response.
POLITIK understands that it is not quite as straightforward as that. It was the convergence of the blogger’s question — the only one which named Joyce — with Hipkins’ questions which had weight which set off the alert.
On Thursday morning the Department briefed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade as officials began to realise the seriousness of the situation.
It was decided to apply a top security rating to any communications on the question.
Prime Minister Bill English was brought up to speed.
Foreign Minister Gerry Brownlee was in Fiji, ironically at a meeting of Pacific Forum foreign ministers also being attended by Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop.
It was decided not to brief her because it was felt the information should first be given to Joyce himself.
That was done on Thursday night by the New Zealand High Commissioner in Canberra, Chris Seed.
There the affair, as far New Zealand was concerned might have ended until Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop upped the ante yesterday by saying: “”New Zealand is facing an election. “Should there be a change of government, I would find it very hard to build trust with those involved in allegations designed to undermine the government of Australia.”
Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern’s response was quick.
“It is highly regrettable that the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has chosen to make false claims about the New Zealand Labour Party,” she said.
“I have been utterly transparent about this situation. I stand by my statements this morning that I knew absolutely nothing about the Barnaby Joyce case until it broke in the media yesterday afternoon.
“I had no knowledge about the Parliamentary Questions lodged by Chris Hipkins MP.
“I have also been clear that those questions were not appropriate.”
Hipkins maintains he did not know that the information Ganley was requesting related to Joyce.
POLITIK understands that Bishop phoned Brownlee yesterday afternoon, but no details of what was said are available.