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Research Guides


Citizenship in Australia: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records


2. Civic Status

Constitutional and legal meanings of citizenship

In the first decade of Federation much attention was devoted to the citizenship status of people naturalised in various parts of the British Empire. The jurisdiction of dominion and colonial governments was limited such that the act of naturalising a person in one dominion or colony was not recognised in any other part of the Empire; a person could be a naturalised British subject in Australia, and remain an alien in New Zealand. This situation seriously detracted from the notion of a common imperial civic status. Australia first opposed reciprocity of naturalisation at the 1902 Colonial Conference, the Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, explaining that this would necessitate racial restrictions on the entry of British subjects to Australia. The argument was fallacious since such restrictions were already in place to implement the 'white Australia policy'. However, by 1909 the government was firmly in favour of the principle, and at the 1911 Imperial Conference, where the issue was discussed at length, the Minister for External Affairs, EL Batchelor, insisted that reciprocity should be achieved, but through local (as against imperial) legislation, thus affirming dominion authority.30 In 1914 the British parliament accordingly passed a Nationality and Status of Aliens Act, which contained terms for naturalisation and nationality which could be adopted by the dominions. In Australia, the preparation of a bill was delayed by the war and further by deliberations over amendments in Britain. Eventually, the Nationality Act 1920 joined Australia to a system of reciprocal recognition of people naturalised in Britain, Canada, Newfoundland, South Africa (from 1926), and New Zealand (from 1929), which operated until the Second World War.

In the mid-1940s the matter of citizenship categories within the Empire again came to the fore of imperial debate as the dominions concluded that the single civic status of British subject was insufficient for the purposes of governing their populations. In 1945 Calwell proposed to Cabinet a separate Australian citizenship be created, at the same time as Canada moved to create a Canadian citizenship. A 1947 conference in London resolved to alter the imperial system of nationality and citizenship along the lines Canada had legislated. This system provided that each self-governing part of the British Commonwealth should establish a local citizenship, and that all local citizens would be deemed British subjects. The Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 created Australian citizenship in accordance with this plan, however most legislation continued to employ the category British subject rather than Australian citizen until the 1970s, and the conservative governments of the 1950s and 1960s continued to refer to Australian citizens as being of British nationality.

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1929–
Canberra and Sydney

This series constitutes the main correspondence series of the Attorney-General's Department, and accordingly contains a large amount of material. While the contents of the series are mostly related to the period that the series was active (from 1929), useful material from as early as 1901 was incorporated into it.

The legal interpretation of citizenship in Australia was predominantly a function of the Attorney-General's Department, and its opinions and deliberations remain an important source for research into citizenship. Opinions were issued mostly in response to requests from other parts of the Commonwealth government for guidance of particular constitutional or legal issues. Many of these are potentially of interest, particularly those concerned with immigration and naturalisation. The other side of correspondence with the Attorney-General's Department can often be located within the files of the agency requesting an opinion on a particular problem, and places the problem in a broader context.

Series: A432
Quantity: 2054.7 metres in Canberra; 352.6 metres in Sydney
Recorded by: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
Naturalization by State – Constitution Section 117, 1902
This file contains the Attorney-General's opinion on s. 117 of the Constitution. In Deakin's opinion, s. 117, while preventing any state from imposing a disability on the resident of another state, did not oblige state governments to recognise as British subjects people naturalised in other states. Accordingly, Federation had no effect on the problem whereby people naturalised in one colony remained aliens in all other colonies because of the limited jurisdiction of colonial governments.
A432, 1929/2612
Census Returns – Nationality

In this file Tasman Heyes, Secretary of the Department of Immigration, informed his Minister following complaints from the public that Australian citizens were compelled to answer 'British' as their nationality on the 1954 census form, that:

Politically any strong emphasis on a separate 'Australian nationality' has its critics who fear that it signifies cleavage between us and the United Kingdom; usually such critics are as strong in voice as they are weak in logic and in the facts of Commonwealth relations… The tendency has been to regard such distinctions as likely to be productive of contentious arguments.

Heyes pointed out that only the Passports Act 1920–38 employed the category of Australian citizenship as the basis of civic privileges; all other legislation continued to use British subject status.

A432, 1961/3191
SPECIAL FILES, 'SF' PREFIX, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1952–
Canberra

This series is comprised of bundles of papers on a diverse range of topics, assembled in the Attorney-General's Department.

Special file 40 in this series, which is split into two bundles and numerous items, contains correspondence surrounding the 1947 conference on British nationality and citizenship. Bundle 82/SF40/5 and Bundle 83/SF40/1 contain deliberations over Australia's position at the conference, and the report of the Australian delegates.

Series: A467
Quantity: 32 metres
Recorded by: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
BILL FILES, 1901–
Canberra and Sydney
This series contains a file for each bill introduced to the Commonwealth parliament since 1901. The files are numbered according to act number where enacted; lapsed bills numbered sequentially thereafter. The contents of the files vary considerably: some contain only drafts of the bills, while others contain substantial correspondence. Files are extant on the Naturalization Acts 1903, the Nationality Act 1920, the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948, and each of their many amendments. Two items are of particular interest.
Series: A2863
Quantity: 298.9 metres in Canberra; 117.9 metres in Sydney
Recorded by: 1901–70: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
Naturalization Act 1917, No. 25
This file includes correspondence on the recognition of imperial naturalisation from 1902.
A2863, 1917/25
Nationality Act 1920
This file contains some correspondence about the Nationality Act 1920, and drafts of earlier bills which were never enacted.
A2863, 1920/48
LETTER BOOKS OF OPINIONS OF THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL, THE CROWN SOLICITOR, AND THE SECRETARY, 1901–18
Canberra
This series is composed of five bound volumes of opinions issued by the Attorney-General's Department between 1901 and 1918. A summary of each request is followed by the full text of each opinion. Unfortunately, the first volume covering the period 1901 to 1903 is missing.
Series: A8779
Quantity: 0.9 metres
Recorded by: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1903–38
Canberra
This series contains the general filing of the Department of External Affairs (I) and its successors. It includes a diverse array of topics, including many files on the administration of immigration, naturalisation, and passports. Research in this series is time-consuming, since it is organised as an annual single number series, and files tend to deal with individual inquiries and responses, rather than themes over a period of time.
Series: A1
Quantity: 445.7 metres
Recorded by: 1901–16: Department of External Affairs (I) (CA 7); 1916–28: Department of Home and Territories (CA 15); 1928–32: Department of Home Affairs (II) (CA 24); 1932–39:Department of the Interior (I) (CA 27)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES WITH YEAR AND LETTER PREFIXES, 1947
Canberra
For several years in the 1940s the Department of External Affairs (II) used annual file series, based on a multiple number system. This series contains files raised in 1947, although the date range of material included in the series is much wider (1933–71). Consult the item lists at the National Archives Canberra office for information on the meaning of file numbers in the series.
Series: A1068
Quantity: 26.5 metres
Recorded by: Department of External Affairs (II) (CA 18)
Nationality. Variation to amendment of Nationality Act. British Commonwealth Conference on Nationality and Citizenship, 1947–49
This very large file contains much material around the 1947 conference. It includes British proposals, the report of the conference, cables between London and Canberra, and many newspaper clippings on the topic.
A1068, IC47/68/3
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1948–89
Canberra
This vast series contains the policy records of the Department of External Affairs, and its successors, from 1948 until 1989. The series is organised as a multiple number series, making research relatively easy, although some topics were allocated additional numbers once the original numbers were exhausted, meaning that there may be two sections of numbers for a single subject. Some material was top-numbered within the series, which creates confusion in researching some subjects.
Series: A1838
Quantity: 3433.9 metres
Recorded by: 1948–70: Department of External Affairs (II) (CA 18)
British Commonwealth – Commonwealth Citizenship, 1965–80
Correspondence in this file concerns a 1965 British Commonwealth conference at which the meaning of 'Commonwealth citizenship' or 'British subject status' were discussed. At issue was the status of British subjects in countries where they were not citizens, and some legal problems which left certain categories of people stateless.
A1838, 899/13/1
VOLUMES OF CORRESPONDENCE AND PAPERS RELATING TO EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, ASSEMBLED BY EL PIESSE, 1920–21
Canberra
This series is composed of a set of 66 bound volumes organised by EL Piesse, head of the Pacific Branch of the Prime Minister's Department. The volumes concern a variety of matters connected to Australia's external affairs. Volumes 32 to 37 contain documents and minutes from colonial and imperial conferences.
Series: A1108
Quantity: 4 metres
Recorded by: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH BLOCK ALLOCATIONS, 1953–
Canberra and Sydney
This series is the main correspondence series for the Department of Immigration and its successors from 1953. The series contains both case files and policy files. The latter are numbered above 65000, while case files are numbered below that figure. Despite heavy culling of files from this series, much valuable material remains. This series contains an extensive amount of material that has not yet been opened for public access, and it warrants considerable attention from researchers. The series contains many files on the adoption and amendment of the Nationality and Citizenship Act. Those listed below are particularly helpful.
Series: A446
Quantity: 2708.3 metres in Canberra; 700 metres in Sydney
Recorded by: 1953–74: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Nationality of Married Women, 1941–64
Calwell's 1945 submission to Cabinet proposing an Australian citizenship, and memoranda on the Cabinet's decision, can be found in this file.
A446, 1960/67025
CIAC 'Charter of Australian Citizenship', 1955
In 1955 a committee was established to consider drafting a charter or statement of Australian citizenship. The idea had received qualified support at the 1955 Citizenship Convention, and the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council established the committee to investigate further. The agenda and notes of the committee's meeting are on file, and include some fascinating suggestions for a citizenship 'credo' and other statements upon the meaning of Australian citizenship. The committee's report is also here; the committee concluded that rather than attempt to impart a wide meaning to citizenship which would not be generally endorsed, it should confine itself to formulating a brochure on the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship to be presented to migrants.
A446, 1955/67340
Suggested amendments to Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1950–78
This large file contains detailed documentation on proposed amendments to the Nationality and Citizenship Act from 1950. The Act was amended frequently during the 1950s, and here various documents on the deliberations of the Department of Immigration, the Commonwealth Immigration Advisory Council, the Citizenship Conventions, and the Cabinet can be found.
A446, 1957/66699
Minister for Immigration and Department of Immigration – proposed addition of words 'and citizenship' to titles
This item contains a 1962 memorandum written by a Department of Immigration official proposing the addition of 'citizenship' to the department's title on the grounds that citizenship tasks had become a major function of the department and this was misunderstood by the public. Peter Heydon, Secretary of the department, proposed this to the Minister following the 1963 election, but no change was made.
A446, 1964/45038
MENZIES AND HOLT MINISTRIES – CABINET FILES 'C' SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1958–67
Canberra
This series contains Cabinet files arranged by subject. Typically files include Cabinet submissions and associated correspondence between the responsible department and the Cabinet office.
Series: A4940
Quantity: 77.8 metres
Recorded by: Secretary to Cabinet/Cabinet Secretariat (I) (CA 3)
Nationality and Citizenship Act 1950 – Amendments
This item contains Cabinet submissions for amendments of the Nationality and Citizenship Act from 1950 to 1966.
A4940, C125
SEVENTH MENZIES MINISTRY – COPIES OF CABINET SUBMISSIONS AND ASSOCIATED DECISIONS (FIRST SERIES), 1958–61
Canberra
This series was artificially constructed by copying the contents of subject-based Cabinet files in A4940 so as to provide a series accessible in the same manner as previous and subsequent Cabinet documents. Several files on amendments to the Nationality and Citizenship Act are contained in the series.
Series: A5818
Quantity: 3.8 metres
Recorded by: Cabinet Office (CA 1472)
EIGHTH MENZIES MINISTRY – COPIES OF CABINET SUBMISSIONS AND ASSOCIATED DECISIONS, 1963–66
Canberra
This series was constructed from A4940 for the same reasons as A5818 (above). Several files on amendments to the Nationality and Citizenship Act are contained in the series.
Series: A5827
Quantity: 3.6 metres
Recorded by: Cabinet Office (CA 1472)

Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

30 Clive Parry, Nationality and Citizenship Laws, Stevens & Sons, London, 1957, p. 531.


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Chapter 2
Civic Status