Attorney-General George Brandis moved the motion to suspend standing orders, arguing Penny Wong had acted in an “utterly disgraceful” way by allowing her chief-of-staff to contact a NZ Labour MP about an ongoing dual citizenship scandal.
Key crossbench senators voted against the bill with Labor and the Greens, including Jacqui Lambie, David Leyonhjelm and Cory Bernardi.
Yesterday it was revealed Penny Wong’s chief-of-staff Marcus Ganley contacted New Zealand Labour MP Chris Hipkins to discuss the ongoing fracas over dual citizenship that has now seen five Australian MPs and senators referred to the High Court.
The New Zealander went on to ask a question in his own parliament about Australian-New Zealand citizenship laws, but said he did not have Barnaby Joyce in mind at the time.
The New Zealand government denied the question from Mr Hipkins prompted the revelations about Mr Joyce’s dual citizenship, calling the allegations “utter nonsense”.
Instead, he said it was questions from an Australian journalist that prompted the NZ government to check Mr Joyce’s status.
"It is incorrect to assert, as Senator Brandis does, that this story broke as a result of any action by my office," Senator Wong told parliament on Wednesday.
But Senator Wong said she did “accept it was unwise” for her staffer to contact the Kiwi MP.
The censor motion accused Senator Wong of engaging in “inappropriate conduct” that made her unfit to ever serve as foreign minister – which is Penny Wong’s shadow portfolio.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop described the communication between the two parties as “treacherous”.
She said it would undermine her confidence in a future New Zealand Labour government. The country is heading to an election in September and the polls are currently tight.
“This is highly unethical, at least. But, more importantly, puts at risk the relationship between the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government,” Ms Bishop said.
The Greens also voted against the motion to suspend standing orders, with Senator Peter Whish-Wilson labelling it the “politics of distraction”.