Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, was ruled as ineligible to remain in parliament by the nation’s High Court due to his dual New Zealand citizenship, in the process sending the country into political chaos as the ruling wipes out PM Turnbull’s one seat parliamentary majority. Section 44 of the Australian constitution, written in 1900, excludes dual citizens from being elected. The cowboy hat wearing Joyce briefly attracted the global spotlight in a 2015 feud with Johnny Depp. Depp failed to follow quarantine procedures when he and his wife brought their dogs into Australia. Joyce threatened to kill the dogs and Depp labelled him a “sweaty, big-gutted man from Australia.”
Australia’s government was thrown into crisis on Friday after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was declared ineligible to sit in parliament because he was also a citizen of New Zealand when elected. The High Court ruling wipes out Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s one-seat majority in the lower-house and will force Joyce, who has since renounced his New Zealand citizenship, to re-contest the seat in a special election likely to be held in early December. Opinion polls show Joyce is unlikely to lose that election and at least three independent lawmakers have said they’ll back Turnbull if the opposition seeks a vote of no confidence in the meantime. Still, the government now faces weeks of uncertainty that could further delay efforts to pass company tax cuts.
Turnbull did not name a new deputy leader during a short news conference in Canberra soon after the court’s ruling, Reuters reported.
The Australian leader had been scheduled to travel to Israel on Saturday for a week-long visit but a spokesman for Turnbull told Reuters his departure has now been delayed. The spokesman said the new travel arrangements are still be finalised. Turnbull’s center-right coalition is now in a precarious position. His Liberal Party is the senior party in a coalition with the smaller National Party, which Joyce led. He must now win the support of one of three independent lawmakers to keep his minority government afloat, with two sitting weeks of parliament left until it recesses for the year. At least two independent lawmakers have promised their support. Independent MP Bob Katter told Reuters he would support the government, but he may reconsider that if the coalition tried to block renewed efforts for a sweeping investigation into the scandal-ridden financial system. “I think we have the numbers for a commission into the banks and, if the government tries to block that, then I think we will get into murky waters,” Katter said. The opposition Labor Party immediately went on the attack and threatened to launch a legal challenge to every decision made by Joyce since last year’s election.
Australian equities and the Aussie dollar sold off on the news.
The Australian dollar and the benchmark stock index extended losses after the ruling against Joyce and four other lawmakers, who also breached the constitution by being dual citizens, including government Senator Fiona Nash. “Turnbull faces weeks of queries over the validity of his government, which could undermine his leadership,” said Jill Sheppard, a political analyst at the Australian National University in Canberra. “It’s hard to see the government collapsing due to this, but at the very least it will be a distracting mess that it can ill-afford.”
From the BBC.
The deputy prime minister, who renounced New Zealand citizenship in August, has pledged to re-contest his lower house seat. “I respect the verdict of the court,” Mr Joyce said immediately after the verdict. “We live in a marvellous democracy, with all the checks and balances they have given us all the freedoms we see. I thank the court [for] their deliberations.” The other four politicians – Fiona Nash, Malcolm Roberts, Larissa Waters and Scott Ludlam – had been elected to the Senate. Another two politicians under scrutiny, senators Matt Canavan and Nick Xenophon, were ruled to have been validly elected. The dual citizenship saga has captivated Australian politics since July, prompting dozens of MPs to publicly clarify their status…The seven-judge bench deliberated for two weeks before ruling that five politicians were ineligible as a “subject or citizen of a foreign power”, under to the constitution’s section 44(i). The court ruled that Mr Canavan and Mr Xenophon were not dual citizens, according to the constitutional definition. The court was not satisfied that Mr Canavan had attained Italian citizenship through descent, while Mr Xenophon’s class of inherited UK citizenship did not give him full rights and privileges.
Regarding the position of the Australian government in parliament, the BBC commented:
With Mr Joyce disqualified, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s numbers slip to 75 in the 150-seat House of Representatives – meaning he is now overseeing a minority government. However, Mr Turnbull could regain his 76-seat majority if Mr Joyce wins the by-election on 2 December. Mr Joyce is eligible to run now he is a citizen of Australia alone. Under a minority government, Mr Turnbull will require support from independent MPs and minor parties to pass legislation in the lower house. There will also be a cabinet reshuffle because both Mr Joyce and Ms Nash held ministerial portfolios. The Labor opposition has claimed that decisions made by the two ministers are “under a legal cloud” and could be challenged.
And Turnbull’s response.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Friday the “business of government goes on” despite a citizenship crisis that ousted his deputy and cost the government its parliamentary majority…”The decision of the court today is clearly not the outcome we were hoping for but the business of government goes on,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. Turnbull confirmed that a by-election would be held in Joyce’s seat on Dec. 2.
Meanwhile, Australians are questioning whether the 117-year old law is still relevant:
The saga has sparked incredulity in Australia and raised questions whether the law is still relevant. Nearly half of Australians were either born in a different country or have at least one parent hailing from overseas. According to Sky News, the government is considering changes to the Citizenship Act that would prohibit foreign countries from conferring citizenship on lawmakers without their knowledge or consent. Longer term, a change to the constitution would require a mandatory national referendum, an expensive process that would take years to organize and usually fails.
When Joyce’s citizenship issue came to light, Johnny Depp’s wife, Amber Heard tweeted that she had sent a box of New Zealand kiwi fruit to “comfort Mr Joyce in his hour (of) need.”
To comfort Mr. Joyce in his hour need, I have sent him a box of New Zealand’s finest kiwi fruit (assuming this passes his biosecurity laws) pic.twitter.com/lQHJzMyXT9
— Amber Heard (@realamberheard) August 15, 2017