The National – Thursday, December 16, 2010
AT Port Moresby’s Apex Park, every so often, there is a small gathering of people under the shade of a tree.
The gathering is auspicious by the fact that there is, hanging from the branches of a tree, an Australian flag.
This group discusses an agenda that borders on treason against the Independent State of Papua New Guinea but which, in the minds of those assembled, is a right that is theirs by natural inheritance.
This small group, comprising mostly elderly men from the Southern region, believes firmly that they are Australian citizens. They discuss ways and means of putting their case before the two governments of Australia and PNG and, especially, how they can get the latter to agree to and restore to them citizenship which was theirs by right before independence.
They claimed they had not agreed to independence and, more importantly, to losing their citizenship of Australia and gaining PNG citizenship.
Last month, there were reports that there had been an Australian flag raising ceremony in Northern. The report could not be confirmed, but there is a rumbling that is growing in many parts of the Southern region.
The discussion is not without cause.
When the constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia was enacted on July 9, 1900, the second line provided for the “admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian colonies and possessions of the Queen”.
Since Papua and New Guinea were the only possessions of the Queen to fall under Australian administrative authority after World War II, they qualified under that provision.
A series of legal and policy aberrations gave even greater credence to the current talk.
The Territory of Papua was an external territory of Australia itself while the Territory of New Guinea was a trust territory under Australian administration, but not Australian territory in a legal sense.
Yet, while the Papuans held full Australian citizenship, those of full indigenous descent were not entitled to reside with the rest of Australia, an extension of the “white only Australia” policy.
It was possible, in some circumstances, for such persons to apply for and be granted a right of residence in mainland Australia.
Those women who were married to Australian men, or children of mixed marriages, could claim right to Australian citizenship but it was not automatic.
Persons connected with the Territory of New Guinea were Australian protected persons rather than Australian citizens and, for nationality purposes, the territory was considered not part of Australia.
When Papua New Guinea became independent on Sept 16, 1975, Australian citizens connected with the Territory of Papua lost Australian citizenship on that date if they became citizens of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The Papua New Guinea (Australian citizenship) Regulations 1975 provided that any Australian citizen becoming a citizen of PNG at independence should lose Australian citizenship.
PNG citizenship was generally conferred only on those born in PNG who had at least two grandparents of indigenous descent, and:
*In the case of Papua, had not acquired a right of permanent residence in mainland Australia or the citizenship of any other country; and
*In the case of New Guinea, had not acquired Australian or any other citizenship.
Persons of non-indigenous descent who acquired Australian citizenship by connection with PNG before independence generally still retain it.
Under the Australian Citizenship Act, only a person born outside Australia is eligible to apply for Australian citizenship by descent.
This has caused an anomaly in that former Australian citizens born in the former Territory of Papua (not New Guinea) before independence, and who lost Australian citizenship on independence in 1975, are unable to recover it through this route even if they have a parent born in mainland Australia.
This has been the subject of litigation in the administrative appeals tribunal and the federal court of Australia, which have ruled that the definition of Australia includes the former Territory of Papua prior to independence. This rules out the possibility of Australian citizenship by descent for a person born in Papua.
However, section 21(7) of the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 allows certain persons born before independence in Papua to be granted Australian citizenship, where such a person has a parent born in Australia (as currently defined).