IN SEPTEMBER 2017, early in the so-called “citizenship crisis”, I wrote about my personal experience of taking out Australian citizenship, back in the 1970s, along with some reflections on what “citizenship” means for people.
I thought I’d said all I had to say on the matter but a recent article by Waleed Aly in The Age (Why are all our dual citizens white?) made me think again. He suggests that our reactions to the (largely Anglo-Celtic or Anglo-Saxon) parliamentarians caught up in the recent dramas might have been different if they had been of Iranian, Chinese or Indonesian stock. He writes: “We still think of New Zealand and Britain as places that are only technically foreign countries … When we think of our migrant communities, we’re not imagining Kiwis and Brits”.
However, it wasn’t those arguments that caught my eye but the following sentence: “Australian citizenship didn’t even exist before 1948, and when it did, Australians were still legally considered British subjects until that was finally undone in 1987.”
Nineteen eighty seven! So what was I doing, in 1976, renouncing my allegiance to the Queen of England and swearing my allegiance to the Queen of Australia? As a new Australian citizen, with a lovely certificate to prove it, it appears I was still a subject of Her Majesty, although now owing her no direct “allegiance”, only indirectly through my new status as an Australian citizen … Down the rabbit hole, anyone?
Fortunately, I have never had to test this conundrum. As Aly points out: “If you’re white, from an Anglophonic background and an Australian citizen, then you face no questions. Your Australian-ness is presumed and uncomplicated. It never needs to be proven and never needs to be justified.”
I have never yet been asked to prove my status or justify my loyalty, which is a relief as my lovely citizenship certificate was stolen some years ago, along with my original UK birth certificate and other important papers. The only exception is when it comes to The Cricket, which is much more important to “real” Aussies than politics. If asked, I just say that I can’t lose because whichever side wins, I’m happy.
Does that mean I have divided loyalties? Should I be hauled before some tribunal? After 42 years, am I not a “real” Aussie? What about people of Chinese heritage whose families have been here for over 100 years? When does the foreign connection stop being of concern?
If all dual citizens are automatically suspect and people of certain ethnic backgrounds are still considered “foreign” (“Yes, but where are you REALLY from?”) then, in this multicultural country of ours, we could have a pretty limited pool from which to select our political representatives.
I’m all for setting precautions against undue influence or interference, wherever it comes from, but the debates in recent times have really made me think. So, what does make a loyal, committed Aussie?