Sunday, November 6, 2011

Be a Citizen. Not a Subject'

The Third National Republican Short Story Competition closed today and the winners will be announced on 26 January 2012. The theme this year was ‘Citizen or Subject’. The difference between citizen and subject has often been glibly said to be that a citizen has rights whereas a subject has privileges. A subject owes their allegiance to a sovereign and is governed by that sovereign’s laws whereas a citizen owes allegiance to the community and is entitled to enjoy all its civil rights and protections. The difference between citizen and subject lies in where an individual places their allegiance: subjects (to a sovereign) and citizens (to a state; to a republic).

Until 1 January 1949, when the British Nationality Act 1948 came into force, at common law, to be a British subject, one simply had to be born in any territory under the sovereignty of the British Crown. From 1949 onwards every person who was a British subject by virtue of a connection with the United Kingdom or one of her Crown colonies became a British citizen. However citizens of other Commonwealth countries retained the status of British subject and were known by the term Commonwealth citizen. From 1949 to 1982, a person born in England would have been a British subject and a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, while someone born in Australia, would have been a British subject and a citizen of Australia. During this time Australian passports had on the front ‘BRITISH SUBJECT Australian Citizen’.

The status of British subject was retained in Australian law until Part II of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 was removed by the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 1984 which came into force on 1 May 1987. Australia severed its final legal ties to Britain by enacting the Australia Acts of 1986. However it must be said we have yet to sever our final symbolic ties to Britain as represented by our head of state being the British monarch. In 1999 the High Court found British citizens to be ineligible to stand for election to our Federal Parliament because they owe allegiance to a ‘foreign power’.

Most Australians like a bit of humour and larrikinism in their politics. ‘Be a Citizen. Not a Subject’. Thankfully we can finally do this in law. As Australians our allegiance is to us, the people of Australia.

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