Barnaby Joyce was more than just member for New England, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and (disastrously) Water. The New Zealander was also a member of various cabinet sub-committees. And one in particular: the National Security Committee.

Joyce was a member along with the PM, the Defence Minister, the Attorney-General, the Foreign Minister, the Immigration Minister and the Treasurer. As it turns out, Joyce shouldn’t have been there; nor should he have been in Cabinet or even in parliament. As he admits he suspected, he was ineligible to be there under the constitution, because he was a Kiwi.

Now, fortunately for Joyce, the New Zealanders, while foreigners for the purposes of the constitution, are our allies, and also members of the 5 Eyes. So as a New Zealander, Joyce’s presence in National Security meetings, where intelligence and security matters of the gravest importance were discussed, doesn’t present the same security implications as if he’d been, say, a Russian.

But there’s one potential problem: like every other country, Australia has a category of intelligence that is exclusively limited to Australians. It’s called AUSTEO — Australian Eyes Only. As the name suggests, it means only Australians can see such information. How much AUSTEO information went through the NSC while Joyce was on it?

Luckily, according to the government’s Information security management guidelines, there’s an exemption: “A person who has dual nationality may be given AUSTEO-marked information as long as they were born in Australia or otherwise hold Australian citizenship.” So no one was breaching the guidelines if Joyce saw AUSTEO information during NSC meetings — although the guidelines are a little unclear on whether the originating agency of the information must provide clearance first before dual nationals can see it, as is required if it’s intended that the AUSTEO information is to be shared with a foreigner.

Still, a foreigner sitting in on all those NSC meetings? Lucky it’s not a Labor government, or we’d never hear the end of it from the right-wing commentariat.

Peter Fray

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