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Australian citizenship as a political plaything

  • 29 May 2015

The Federal Government has announced it will legislate within weeks to strip certain dual nationals of their Australian citizenship. The new laws will apply to dual-national Australian citizens who fight with or support terrorist groups at home or abroad.

Understanding the proposed new laws requires some background on Australian citizenship, which is actually a relatively new citizenship. In fact, the first Citizenship Act was 1948, thanks to post-war Labor Government Immigration Minister Arthur Calwell.

For our first 48 years as a nation – during which we fought in two world wars – there were no Australian citizens, just British subjects. Australian Citizenship began on Australia Day 1949.

The right to citizenship varies between different countries. In some nations like Australia – and many western European countries – it is the jus sanguinis (right of the blood), which means you obtain citizenship through your parents. In others – such as the US and most of North and South America – it is the jus soli (right of the land), which refers to citizenship granted to those born in the country. Until 1984, Australia followed the jus soli principle, but that changed from 20 August 1986 and from then, the jus sanuinis principle applied.

Being born in Australia only entitles you to a birth certificate, and not citizenship. Citizenship is only available to those born here who have parents who are Australian citizens or permanent residents. Those born outside of Australia to an Australian parent need to have their birth registered in order to be granted citizenship.

Until 4 April 2002, you lost your Australian citizenship if you were granted citizenship of another country. However this did not apply to those who automatically were granted foreign citizenship through marriage or through the citizenship of a parent. It is now possible to apply for and be granted citizenship from another country without the risk of losing your Australian citizenship.

You can become a citizen if you were born in Australia and remain here for your first ten years. There is no requirement that you must be a lawful non-citizen or even a permanent resident.

For many Australians who have not had to apply for citizenship, the notion of citizenship may be limited to getting a passport and compulsory voting. Currently, you can only lose citizenship if you are convicted of fraud in obtaining the citizenship, for example obtaining permanent residence under false pretences and then using that to gain citizenship.