Australia 0, New Zealand 1.
That appears to be the score at the end of an event-filled week that saw the swearing-in of New Zealand’s new prime minister Jacinda Ardern (with cat in tow), and the possible collapse of Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government.
Turnbull’s government is on a knife-edge after his deputy, Barnaby Joyce, was ruled ineligible for parliament by all seven High Court judges today (Oct. 27) because he’s also a New Zealand citizen. The dual-citizenship scandal has claimed the jobs of multiple politicians since it broke out this summer, but Joyce’s scalp is the most crucial, as it now means that Turnbull’s coalition government has lost its one-seat majority in the lower house of parliament.
In addition to the deputy prime minister, four other members of parliament were ruled ineligible for their posts on the same day. The latest ruling also disqualifies senator Fiona Nash, deputy leader of the Nationals party, which is in coalition with Turnbull’s Liberals.
Turnbull said in August that he was “very confident” that the High Court would find in Joyce’s favor. Joyce said that he had a “gut feeling” the ruling wouldn’t go his way, but he didn’t go directly to a by-election on advice of the solicitor-general.
Joyce’s seat in the New England constituency in New South Wales state will be contested in a House of Representatives by-election to be held on Dec. 2. Joyce said he would not “cry into his beer” and would prepare for that election now that he’s renounced his Kiwi citizenship. Joyce remains the leader of the Nationals party.
Joyce, who until today was also agriculture minister, is better known outside of Australia as the politician who took on Johnny Depp and his dogs, when he threatened to have the dogs destroyed after Depp and his then-wife Amber Heard broke strict quarantine laws and smuggled them into the country. Shortly after news of Joyce’s citizenship trouble broke in August, Heard trolled Joyce on Twitter:
Joyce was born in Australia, but, according to New Zealand law, is a citizen by descent because his father emigrated to Australia from New Zealand. Joyce at the time said he wouldn’t step down and would refer his case to the High Court instead. Australia’s foreign minister Julie Bishop at the time suggested that Australia’s Labor party was working in conjunction with its Kiwi Labour counterparts to undermine the Australian government by looking into Joyce’s heritage.
Anne Twomey, a legal scholar at the University of Sydney, told Sky News Australia that she was surprised the court was so strict. “They just looked at the words of the constitution and thought, ‘Well, we’re just following them, we’re not looking at purpose and we’re certainly not going down the subjective route of looking at people’s individual knowledge.'”
A number of politicians ensnared by the rules claimed that they had no knowledge of their dual-citizenship status, including former resources minister Matt Canavan, who said his mother signed him up for Italian citizenship without him knowing. Canavan was ruled eligible to remain in parliament by the court today because it said he had never activated his “potential” Italian citizenship, and Canavan was duly sworn back in as resources minister.
The situation is extra complicated for Turnbull, who was set to leave Australia tomorrow (Oct. 28) for a trip to Israel—Joyce’s disqualification leaves him with no acting prime minister in his absence. Turnbull has decided to cancel his trip while the post of deputy prime minister is worked out.
Turnbull, meanwhile, added a new title to his portfolio, becoming agriculture minister in place of Joyce.