Poor Labour MP Chris Hipkins has been cruelly and unfairly under the gun.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop went full battleship, declaring, "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."

Winston Peters declared that if Hipkins was a NZ Firster he would be shunted to the bottom of their party list. Even "relentlessly positive" new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern rebuked him.

Gerry Brownlee described Hipkins' behaviour as "extraordinary", in allowing himself to be used in an attempt to bring down a party in another country.


And what dastardly crime did Hipkins commit to cop the wrath of two Governments and his own leader?

He simply asked through Parliament two questions like whether "a child born in Australia to a New Zealand father [would] automatically have New Zealand citizenship".

He made no allegations. He took part in no dirty tricks. He didn't dig dirt.

He just asked a very reasonable parliamentary question.

Of course, the answer to the question has set off a thermonuclear device in Australian politics, with Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce discovering that through his Kiwi father he is a New Zealand citizen and hence may well be ineligible to serve in the Australian Parliament.

But none of this is Hipkins' fault.

He is not responsible for the New Zealand law on citizenship. He is not responsible for the Australian constitution. He is not responsible for Joyce's dad being a Kiwi. He is not responsible for Joyce not checking his eligibility.

It doesn't matter the extent to which Hipkins knew the ramifications of the questions he was asking: they were legitimate questions for an MP to ask.


The rules for written questions are strict and his questions were in order.

The rules on citizenship aren't a state secret, they are readily available, and having the minister declare the rules through Parliament is not an act of aggression or underhand as alleged.

Besides, the fix is in Parliament's hands. Our Parliament could retrospectively declare Joyce not a citizen in minutes.

Australian constitutionalists could then figure out what that would mean. At least we would have done our bit. It's not without precedent. Unlike Australia, our law allows MPs to hold dual citizenship. But it doesn't allow a sitting MP to apply for citizenship of a foreign country.

That's precisely what Labour MP Harry Duynhoven did back in 2003 when he sought to have his Dutch citizenship resumed. To avoid kicking him out of Parliament, the Labour Government passed under urgency a temporary law to suspend retroactively the pesky bit of the Electoral Act.

If we can do that for a New Zealand MP we should be able to do the same for an Australian one. It would be of more use than huffing and puffing about Hipkins asking questions.

Of course, it's the nature of politics to deflect responsibility and Hipkins proves a convenient scapegoat.