The deputy prime minister is taking over the resources and Northern Australia portfolios from Matt Canavan who resigned on Tuesday night, saying he’d only just discovered his mother made him an Italian 11 years ago.
She registered herself and members of her family as an “Italian resident abroad” – a form of citizenship – with the Italian consulate in Brisbane in 2006.
However, Canavan, who was 25 at the time, insists he did not authorise her to do so.
Joyce, who has known and worked with him for years and is godfather to one of his children, says the family had a discussion, but Canavan expressed no desire to become an Italian citizen.
The government will now await the outcome of a High Court verdict, but Joyce is already questioning the validity of the registration.
“The premise being, how can you be signed up for something you never signed up for? That you never actually knew about?” he asked reporters in Canberra today.
“You can use the hypothetical that if Libya decided they were going to sign me up as a Libyan citizen without my knowledge, does that mean I’m Libyan? Of course not, it’s an absurdity.”
He described his close friend and former chief of staff as “an incredibly decent person”.
Treasurer Scott Morrison described the revelation as a bolt out of the blue for Canavan.
“Hopefully common sense will prevail,” he told FIVEaa radio.
Malcolm Turnbull last week criticised two Greens senators who were also caught out by section 44 of the constitution, saying Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters showed incredible sloppiness.
Canavan’s Queensland colleague Ken O’Dowd admits the same can be said of Canavan.
“The prime minister said it and whether he said it to the Greens or said it to anyone else it’s … sloppy,” he told ABC radio.
“I don’t think there’s much of an excuse anyone can offer.”
Canavan, who was promoted to cabinet last year after just two years in parliament, will still serve as a senator while the court decides his fate.
Greens leader Richard Di Natale thinks it would have been more appropriate for him to resign.
“The advice we received was that ignorance is no excuse,” he said.
“A real Italian never blames his mum.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten didn’t cast doubt on Canavan’s story, but wants the Italian consulate to release all the relevant documents.
“I certainly hope we can get some clarity around Senator Canavan’s matter, but we’re not going to make that a big political issue,” he said.
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