BARNABY Joyce is making a habit of getting under the skin of the famous in his staunch defence of Australian agriculture.
Jona, John, Johnny
LAST month Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce accused virtually unknown “I Killed the Prom Queen” guitarist Jona Weinhofen of telling lies in a PETA campaign about the Australian wool industry by holding a fake, foam lamb with blood and open wounds.
Mr Joyce said the Australian born musician was living in “vegan splendour in California” but had “completely disparaged” the whole shearing industry back in Australia.
This week, he channelled US singer-songwriter John Mellencamp’s 1982 smash hit record “Jack and Diane” in an opinion article to describe the benefits of budget measures for Australian farmers.
Just hours after the budget was delivered - and with Australian farmers starting to believe their maverick minister was really a starving rock musician - he turned his attention to one of the brightest of Hollywood’s glittering movie stars, Johnny Depp.
A global outcry subsequently erupted over the National party deputy leader’s threats to euthanase Mr Depp’s two dogs – Boo and Pistol – for a deliberate breach of Australian quarantine standards, which could result in a hefty fine.
Bugger off Boo
“A gentlemen by the name of John Christopher Depp – otherwise known as (Captain) Jack Sparrow - has decided to bring into our nation two dogs without actually getting the proper certification and the proper permits required,” Mr Joyce told media Thursday morning.
“Basically it looks like he snuck them in. We found out he snuck them in because we saw him taking them to a poodle groomer.”
At the time, Mr Joyce said the Hollywood icon had 50 hours to return his dogs to California “or we’re going to have to euthanase them”.
He said there was an established process for animals entering Australian borders, but despite being declared the sexiest man alive, twice, Mr Depp was not above the law.
“It’s time Pistol and Boo buggered off back to the United States - and after that I don’t expect to be invited to the opening of Pirates of the Caribbean,” he said.
On Friday night, Mr Joyce’s ministerial wishes became the Hollywood actor’s command as the two potentially destitute dogs boarded a return flight to the US, allegedly on another private jet.
“Two dogs that were brought into Australia without meeting our import requirements have now been exported back to their country of origin,” a statement from Mr Joyce said, without naming Mr Depp.
“A Department of Agriculture officer has escorted the two dogs from the property in Queensland, where they had been held under quarantine order, to the airport for their flight home.
“The Department issued the necessary export documentation and correspondence to the relevant veterinary authority to facilitate the repatriation of the dogs.
“All costs associated with returning the dogs were met by the owners.”
Given Mr Depp’s profile and the political threat to put down the two dogs, the story generated global headlines.
'Hillbilly redneck losers'
On Friday, the minister was subject to a torrent of verbal abuse and foul language from radio shock jock Kyle Sandilands. Mr Joyce is now demanding an apology and making an official complaint over the incident.
In an abrupt exchange, Mr Sandilands took objection to the federal minister’s wording of the issue, rather than focusing the Hollywood actor’s actual quarantine breach.
“We just sound like a bunch of hillbilly redneck losers saying 'bugger off back to Hollywood or we'll euthanase your dogs',” Mr Sandilands said.
Mr Joyce replied. “It's the law mate - that's how it works.”
But the radio host retorted, “You sound like an absolute clown telling the guy to bugger off to Hollywood or we'll kill his dogs”.
“You're a government minister, not some idiot off the street mouthing off to a news camera,” he said.
Mr Joyce returned fire saying, "That's interesting coming from you, mate”, before the radio host spoke over the top of the minister. "Oh shut up, Barnaby, you're an absolute joke, Barnaby ... I'm going off because you sound like an insensitive wanker," Mr Sandilands said.
Before the exchange ended with Mr Sandilands hanging up, Mr Joyce had his final word: "You're a savage little man aren't you?”
A serious issue
However, Science and Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane defended Mr Joyce’s position on ABC radio. The breach of normal quarantine procedures in bringing the two dogs into Australia was actually a serious issue, he noted.
“We want to see the matter resolved so that obviously our quarantine is maintained,” he said.
“Our phytosanitary and quarantine situation in Australia is crucial to primary production and we can't afford to have it compromised even for the dogs of film superstars.”
Asked where the original sin of the entire issue was, Agriculture Department first assistant secretary of the biosecurity animal division Tim Chapman said the importation of the two dogs from the US by Mr Depp did not comply with Australian import requirements for animals.
He said those import regulations were in place “for extraordinarily good reasons; to protect the health and safety of humans and animals in Australia”.
Mr Chapman said said on Tuesday morning this week, his Department became aware the Hollywood actor’s two dogs were in the country and followed up on that information gaining confirmation later in the day.
The following morning the Department visited the Gold Coast home where the actor is staying, and the dogs were being kept, and ordered them into quarantine, he said.
All wastage from the dogs had to be disposed of while confined and they had to be prevented from making contact with any other animals.
“That’s what we call an ‘order into quarantine’ and then we made an order to re-export the dogs to where they came from,” he said.
“It’s very, very rare that animals get into Australia without us noticing.
“It’s less than one occasion a year where we detect an animal at an airport and then the animal is placed on a plane and re-exported immediately.
“People sometimes smuggle in birds and snakes and they are euthanased – but that’s a different issue to how we treat peoples’ pets.”
Mr Chapman said the issue with Mr Depp’s dogs was “an unusual event” but stressed his Department had dealt with it in a way that’s “absolutely consistent with all these issues”.
“Despite all of the attention that’s been given to this issue we’ve dealt with it as far as possible, in a business as usual way that’s consistent with all of our standard procedures,” he said.
“Our understanding is the dogs will leave within the time frames that we specified.”
Mr Chapman declined to comment on the exact date of when Mr Depp’s private jet arrived with the dogs.
But he said his department became aware of the issue on May 12 due to a media article in a local paper on the Gold Coast, featuring a picture of the actor’s dogs while visiting a grooming salon.
The Department followed up with the production company associated with the movie Mr Depp is filming on the Gold Coast.
“That’s when we were given the concrete information,” Mr Chapman said.
“The people who deserve a pat on the back for this are those who have been dealing with it in a calm and professional way, in my department, since we found out.
“My concern is looking at the biosecurity issue and ensuring we resolve problem in a consistent way.
“There’s no doubt people will be talking about a failure of quarantine and the fact these dogs arrived on private jet but that made no difference at all.
“Fifteen million people arrive in Australia each year.
“People will be saying ‘why didn’t you search Johnny Depp’s baggage?', but that’s easy to say after the event.”
Mr Chapman said Australia had a risk-based system of making biosecurity checks and on arrival passengers are required to declare to officials, in writing, any specific threats.
The officials also search when they believe there’s a risk, he said.
“We have the best quarantine in the world and that’s evident by the fact we remain free of many pests and diseases that affect lots of other countries,” he said.
The Department says private jets are subject to the same strict biosecurity requirements as any other aircraft or vessel entering Australia.
Mr Chapman said the disease risks related to the two dogs from the US included rabies, ehrlichia, leishmania.
But he said a range of protocols had to be met before dogs arrived in Australia to ensure they’re not carrying any of those diseases, including being certified by the veterinary authority in the country they originated in.
“Normally these dogs would have had a whole lot of tests to ensure they didn’t have diseases, and internal and external parasite treatments like rabies vaccination and then they would be examined by a US government vet who would then sign a certificate saying they were free of the various diseases and met import requirements,” he said.