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Friday, August 31, 2007

The meaning of Australian citizenship: Part 1

What does Australian citizenship mean? Can it be bestowed? Can it be taken away? Can its full entitlements apply to some and not to others? Is there mutual obligation within citizenship? What is the obligation of the citizen to the state? What is obligation of the state to the citizen?

Under John Howard, there are continued attempts to promote and coerce 'Australian values'.

There was the aborted attempt to have such a preamble to the Constitution. Les Murray, perhaps our greatest living poet, was hired to right such a preamble. But that did not suit. There is now a test of sorts to be placed before applicants for citizenship.

Many years ago, under a conservative political regime, Australia refused a passport for 17 years to a controversial citizen, Wilfred Burchett.

Under John Howard, there has been an attempt to deprive those confined in prison of their right to vote. It has not succeeded but has reverted to the previous situation whereby prisoners serving beyond a certain minimum term are denied the right to vote. The High Court has not yet published its reasons.

However, the question needs to be reviewed and we need to ask again: should a citizen ever be denied the right to vote? If there is a case for denial, under what conditions should this be done? What does the limiting of citizens' rights in any regard mean? Can the State limit other rights of the citizen? But then we have to ask: as Australians how are our rights guaranteed without a specific charter, without a Bill of Rights? Are our rights to be held captive to politicized judicial appointments? But then are they to be held captive to the burden of lawyers' arguments?

On the matter of the State's obligation to citizens, Australia has seen its citizen, David Hicks, subjected to gross injustice at the hands of its powerful ally, the United States of America. We have cases in Australia where people who are convicted of crimes are deported to their country of birth. The highlighted cases are of of people who were born outside Australia but have lived here since infancy without formally taking out Australian citizenship. Australia has formed them. For good or for ill, their lives have been lived among us - in our society, under our government. Do we have no responsibility or recourse but to cast them forth to become strangers in a strange land, taking with them to a foreign land their troubles which were formed among us?

Citizenship can never be taken for granted. But the citizen must always hold the entitlement and obligation of citizenship up to the light. Unless this is done, encroachment on the liberty of any may mean encroachment on the liberty of all.