Pre-Independence Papua New Guinea and Australian Citizenship

A monumental decision has recently been handed down from the Federal Court in which an applicant born in pre-independence Papua New Guinea (PNG) was successful in having his Australian citizenship legally recognised. The follows a long and decisive case against acting Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Alan Tudge, and may influence the validity of many pre-independent PNG applicants seeking legal recognition of their Australian citizenship.

The applicant, Mr Troyrone Lee, was born in May 1975 in PNG, only months before the country achieved official independence and was therefore granted Australian citizenship automatically. The legislation providing for Papua New Guinean independence stipulated that Australia ceased to have any sovereign rights or administrative rights in relation to PNG. The PNG Constitution further disallowed dual citizenship and declared that those born in PNG with two native grandparents automatically acquired PNG citizenship and would cease to be an Australian citizen on Independence Day (16 September 1975). The judge held that Mr Lee fell within the exception to this rule contain in the PNG Constitution in that he had a right to permanent residence and could therefore not be determined as a citizen of PNG.

Both Mr Lee’s grandparents were naturalised citizens of Australian and his parents were both granted Australian citizenship before 1974. The judge emphasised the significance of the family unit and the inconsistency of allowing Mr Lee’s parents to remain as Australian citizens but denying this same right to Mr Lee. Mr Lee first arrived in Australia in October 1975 and was issued with an Australian passport in 1979 before settling in the country permanently in 1982. Australia is home to Mr Lee who does not identify or claim any connection to PNG as he has long established his life in Australia. When Mr Lee sought to renew his Australian passport in 2016 after 20 years of contributing to the country’s infrastructure as an electrical engineer, he was subsequently refused and advised by the Department of Home Affairs that he was not a citizen of Australia but of PNG. The Federal Court, however, held differently, and declared that Mr Lee was, in fact, an Australian citizen.

The decision is an important one for many applicants of pre-independent PNG who may have had their Australian citizenship challenged by the Department of Home Affairs. This case may not completely solve the issue of the links between the Australian law and the PNG Constitution at the time of independence, but it will certainly shed some very important light on this topical subject.


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