Prior to the French Revolution, the status of citizenship was only for the elite and powerful and a tool used to keep ‘commoners’ away from participating in political decision – making. Post French Revolution marked a period of Enlightenment put into practice and suddenly it was realised that citizenship should be more inclusive and democratic, enabling not only national membership and a sense of inclusion into a community but also the grant of political rights, welfare benefits and certain privileges.
Today a citizen enjoys the right to vote, the right to a fair trial by jury, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. There are also some benefits that only individuals with citizenship status enjoy. For example, all Australian citizens have access to Medicare and Centrelink gratuities, are able to seek and receive help from the Australian Government when overseas and have the privilege to exit and re-enter Australia freely.
Political, economic and humanist theorists such as T.H Marshall have praised the era of modern citizenship and the path it has paved for additional rights to be secured in the civil sphere of our community such as equality. However other theorists have not such as Karl Marx who critics our version of citizenship as a vehicle that purges our sense of freedom rather than enabling it.
Maybe Marx has a point. A recent ABC report by Nicole Mills and Tim Lamacraft has rendered the inherent privilege of exiting and re-entering Australia freely nothing but questionable. A number of Australians have now found themselves needing to prove their citizenship to the Government upon a reapplication of their Australian passports prior to or just upon planning to leave the country.
Individuals attempting to reapply for a passport have had their application rejected on the basis that they did not provide their Australian citizenship certificate even if they have successfully reapplied for an Australian passport in the past, are the holder of Medicare cards, paid taxes and voted.
Upon this requirement, individuals have had to cancel their holidays and plans to reunite with families overseas, ultimately being left with no choice but to reside here. It is through these anecdotes you realise that the word freely, used by the Department of Home Affairs, actually has some caveats attached to it…just like Marx asserted.
According to DFAT such steps are taken where citizenship is hard to establish and this can depend on factors such as:
- Whether the person was born before August 20, 1986 (this was the year that Australia severed all constitutional ties with the United Kingdom so that anyone who was not an Australia citizen but rather that of the Monarch in the United Kingdom was regarded as an alien).
- Whether a period of permanent residency is part of the person’s claim to citizenship;
- Whether the person was born in Australia or overseas;
- Whether the person was born in a current or former external territory.
Whilst from a security point of view it can be understood why such measures are taken it is also simultaneously problematic for those who have lost their citizenship certificates AND have up until now been able to successfully reapply for an Australian passport without it.
The Next Steps
The take away from this is simple; if you are planning a holiday, actioning a desire to work or study abroad for a defined period or reuniting with a loved one and your passport needs to be renewed – have your citizenship certificate on hand and ready to present with your application.
The Department of Home Affairs website provides information on how to apply for evidence of Australian citizenship via this link: https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/Trav/Citi/Curr/evidence-of-australian-citizenship.