Australia's leadership is facing disarray, after its High Court said now-former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is ineligible to hold office, because he's also a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand. The ruling also means Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is now heading a minority government.
"I respect the decision of the court," Joyce told reporters on Friday, after judges ruled his seat is now vacant. Joyce held citizenship in New Zealand due to his father being born there.
"I had no reason to believe I was a citizen of any other country than Australia," Joyce said from his hometown of Tamworth, in New South Wales. Gesturing toward the valley behind him, he said, "I was born just there. I grew up over there. And, I served in our nation's defense forces, and I had no reason to believe I was anything other than Australian."
Joyce's name may be familiar to Americans: In 2015, he was the Agriculture minister who said actor Johnny Depp had smuggled his two Yorkshire terriers into Australia aboard a private jet, when Depp was filming a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The dogs circumvented quarantine procedures, Joyce said; they were returned to the U.S. after a dispute that included a threat to euthanize the animals.
"If you start letting movie stars — even though they've been the sexiest man alive, twice — to come into our nation [and break laws], then why don't we just break laws for everybody?" Joyce said. Referring to the dogs by name, he added, "It's time that Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States."
The High Court's decision has threatened to reshape Turnbull's government, which now has 75 seats in the House of Representatives. Joyce is the leader of the National Party, which has been part of a coalition with Turnbull's Liberal Party.
"Turnbull could regain his 76-seat majority if Joyce wins a by-election in December – Joyce is now eligible to run, because he's renounced his dual citizenship since he was originally elected," NPR's Rob Schmitz reports. "Under what is now a minority government, Prime Minister Turnbull will require support from other parties to pass legislation. There will also be a cabinet reshuffle and the opposition party says decisions made by Joyce are now under a legal cloud and could be challenged."
The turn of events has given vital importance to independent Member of Parliament Cathy McGowan, who could shake things up further if she supported efforts to derail Turnbull. Australia's ABC reports that McGowan is staying the course, saying "things from my perspective stay exactly as they are."
Joyce is one of the so-called Citizenship Seven — politicians who were confronted this summer with the possibility that their elections to Parliament were invalid because they held dual citizenship, something that's illegal for elected officials under Section 44 of Australia's constitution. All but two of those politicians were declared to be ineligible; several have already stepped down from office.
Australia has faced similar citizenship problems with its elected leaders in the past. As ABC reports, "With the latest census showing 28 per cent of Australians born overseas, and many more with a family history beyond that — the citizenship hurdle is one that many potential candidates have to clear."
But even with that history, this summer has brought a flood of controversy, as a steady stream of lawmakers were found to have had citizenship in a country other than Australia. The earliest accusation was lodged in July against the Greens' co-deputy leader Scott Ludlam, who was forced to resign from the Senate after a lawyer in Perth conducted a search of New Zealand's citizen registry. He had left that country when he was 3.
The lawyer who unearthed that information, John Cameron, said, "This is not driven by political ideology," reports The West Australian. The newspaper adds that Cameron is himself a dual citizen of New Zealand and Australia.
After Ludlam resigned, his fellow Greens deputy Larissa Waters — who made headlines in May when she breastfed her baby in Parliament — resigned days later, acknowledging that she had failed to renounce her dual citizenship in Canada, where she was born.