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Research Guides


Citizenship in Australia: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records


4. The Substance of Citizenship

A chapter dealing with the rights and obligations attached to, or implied by, citizenship might be expected to be the most significant section of a guide to records on citizenship in Australia. However, researchers may be disappointed to learn that the rights and obligations which they regard as crucial components of citizenship were not treated as such by the Commonwealth government. Citizenship in Australia has never been clearly defined by reference to a set of rights and corresponding obligations. In law, rights and obligations are established by the various statutes and regulations of the Commonwealth and state parliaments, and the decisions of many courts. Many more rights which citizens claim have no firm basis in law; for instance, insofar as the freedoms of speech and association exist in Australia, they rest on complex legal foundations and are qualified in important respects. Much continues to rely on the common law, which once embodied the many conventions which constituted citizenship in the British Empire.

Moreover, citizenship remains a relatively new concept, even given the antiquity of its etymology and the long history of political theories on the relations between individual and state. Over the past few decades, citizenship has been invested with a series of new and sometimes conflicting meanings both in the domains of scholarly research and national politics. Many of these meanings diverge significantly from the understandings of citizenship which guided earlier policymakers, and the researcher is often presented with mismatching concepts of what citizenship means.

As a result of these factors this chapter does not specifically cover such citizen rights as freedom of speech, but has these three sections: rights and obligations, movements and passports, and international instruments on human rights.


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Chapter 4
The Substance of Citizenship