Saturday, September 2, 2017

Change the day, but keep the date

Sunday, September 3, is Australia’s Independence Day. This is not a day that is celebrated in this country. The truth is, very few would be aware that September 3 marks the anniversary of the day that Australia first cut the cord to the Mother Country.
In all the current emotional debate around the significance of Australia’s national day it is important to start with the facts. The same goes for all the controversy around Section 44 of the Constitution and MPs’ allegiances.
The main contentious passage in Section 44 reads:
Any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”
The High Court will determine the legalities of MPs’ citizenship status today. However, for the public debate it is important to know that when this was written there were no Australian citizens. There certainly were Australian characters, and the term “citizen”, was used essentially to distinguish between those who lived here and those who were just visiting.
However, Australia’s permanent residents were all British subjects. Therefore when the Constitution referred to “a foreign power”, it meant foreign to the British Empire.
Five years after Section 44 was written, while ruling on a case between the Attorney-General and Ah Sheung, the High Court stated: “We are not disposed to give any countenance to the novel doctrine that there is an Australian nationality as distinguished from a British nationality.”
John Curtin, The first Prime Minister of an independent Australia.

The ANZACs, although made up of troops from Australia and New Zealand, were officially British soldiers under Imperial command.
A quick skim through the newspapers and Hansard in the early 20th century certainly gives the impression that, although Australia was strongly parochial, it was also proudly British.
When the United Kingdom opened the door to independence for its dominions with the Statute of Westminster in 1931, there was no vocal appetite to take up the offer Down Under.
Australia’s independence was forged in the furnace of World War II.
It was 75 years ago, as the war raged in Europe, Africa and the Pacific – with the Japanese bombing Darwin and sending submarines into Sydney Harbour – that the Curtain Government became concerned it did not have any authority over Australian troops on board British ships.
Ben Chifley was the first Prime Minister to hold Australian citizenship, although he remained a British national.

This is when it decided it would be a good idea to action sections of the Statute ofWestminster, declaring Australia’s independence.
“We are an Australian Government responsible primarily to the people of Australia,” said the then Foreign Minister Doc Evatt. “We need this legislation in order to remove burdensome restrictions and unsatisfactory delays which still clog the rights of Australians to control their own domestic affairs.”
Despite reservations of the conservative Opposition, the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act was passed on October 9, 1942, but its affect was back dated to the “Commencement of War between His Majesty the King and Germany”, September 3, 1939.
So the Commonwealth of Australia entered the war as a British dominion and came out as an independent nation, albeit under the Crown.
However, the idea of Australian nationality remained a “novel doctrine”. Australian residents were all still British subjects.
The post-war immigration boom was rapidly changing the nature of Australia down the pathway toward the multicultural society we have today.
“There is amongst Australians a growing sense of our Australian national identity — reflecting the growth in our population and in our stature amongst the nations of the world,” said Australia’s first Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, in 1948. “The Government accordingly considers it to be desirable, progressively and by whatever means are reasonably possible, to give primacy to the expression 'Australian citizen'.”
With that he introduced the Nationality and Citizenship Bill, for its second reading in the House of Representatives.
“The introduction of this Bill is proof that Australia has really grown up,” said the Member for Wilmott, Gil Duthie.
Again the Bill struck opposition from the conservatives.
"We must have a care that in creating the new, we do not destroy the old, and that in this new-found freedom we do not impetuously impair our allegiance to the Mother Country," said Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party Eric Harrison.
“We are drifting further and further apart in outlook from the Mother Country, and it appears to me that we are veering more and more towards a policy of isolationism.”
The Nationality and Citizenship Act was passed in 1948, to take effect from January 26, 1949.
But still, Australian citizens remained primarily British subjects and their nationality was officially British until the Gorton Government in 1969 amended the Nationality and Citizenship Act to give primacy to Australian citizenship.
John Gorton with his wife, Bettina. He was the first Prime Minister to hold Australian Nationality.

It was the Hawke Government in 1984 that finally did away with Australian’s dual citizenship status. From then on they were no longer British subjects.
There is much debate right now about Australia Day, January 26. Both major parties officially support the date, but you don’t have to be clairvoyant to notice it is with diminished enthusiasm.
Nobody is pushing for Independence Day, September 3. Perhaps the way forward is to stop focusing on the raising of the Union Jack on January 26, 1788, claiming the British colony of New South Wales.
Instead we should celebrate the more inclusive January 26, 1949, when the newly independent nation of Australian granted citizenship to its diverse population.

For Australia Day, we can change the day, but keep the date.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Bob Menzies was a British citizen

While he was Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies did not have Australian citizenship. His nationality was officially British.
He retained his British citizenship all his life.
In fact every Prime Minister and MP up until the Hawke Government in 1984 were British citizens.
Why was this not a problem under Section 44 of the Constitution? I guess that’s a question for the High Court.
The fact is the term “citizen” of Australia was just an administrative concept to distinguish between those who lived here and those who were just visiting.
Up until World War II – when Prime Minister John Curtin shunned Britain and  legislated Australia’s independence – Australia was a British colony and its citizens were all officially British nationals.
So when Section 44 of the Constitution refers to a “foreign power” it was referring to nationalities other than British.
So why is it a problem that National Party Deputy Leader Fiona Nash or Senator Nick Xenophon are entitled to British Citizenship?  I guess that’s a question for the High Court.
Australian nationality was not formally introduced until 1969 when the Government of John Gorton passed an amendment to the Nationality and Citizenship Act (1948).
But even after that, Australians continued to be British subjects until the Hawke Government repealed British citizenship for Australians as part of the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 1984.
So does that mean Bob Hawke or John Curtin are responsible for all the problems of dual citizen MPs we are facing right now?
I guess that’s a question for the High Court. 
John Curtin and US General Douglas MacArthur meet at Parliament House on 26 March 1942. Picture Courtesy the National Archives. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

September 3: Australia's Independence Day

There is much debate right now about Australia Day, January 26. Like loyal subjects we celebrate the day we became a British colony and raised the Union Jack. I guess as we are still under the Crown, it is disloyal to celebrate – or even talk about – Australia’s official Independence Day, September 3.
Loyalist, I guess, back in the day felt that declaring Australia’s independence was a slap in the face to the then King of England.
But for the record, the United Kingdom granted many of its colonies the permission to be independent nations with the Statute of Westminster, December, 1931.
Australia finally took up this offer during World War II on October 9, 1942 with the Westminster Adoption Act. However, it’s effect was official backdated to the beginning of the war, September 3, 1939.
If we really want a national day that all Australian’s can celebrate, it should be Independence Day, September 3.

Siamo Dio, We Are God.