"In the breakthrough High Court case Love and Thoms vs Commonwealth
the court ruled that First Nations people could not be considered aliens in
Australia. As Justice James Edelman noted in the decision,
whatever the other manners in which they were treated […] Aboriginal people
were not ‘considered as foreigners in a kingdom which is their own’.
Yet, in my upcoming book with historian Kate Bagnall, I look at how Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander people were long denied the rights of citizenship in
their own land due to discriminatory laws – perhaps no more so than in Western
Until the 1970s, Western Australia still forced Aboriginal people to “dissolve
tribal and native associations” and “adopt the manner and habits of civilised
life” for two years before they could apply for citizenship under the state’s
Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act 1944
Western Australia had copied racially discriminatory provisions on citizenship
from the United States, specifically the outdated 1918 US Federal Code, with
strong echoes of the notorious “Black Laws” from the early 1800s.
As Garth Nettheim and Larissa Behrendt note in the 2010 edition of Laws of
, the Western Australian law “throughout its life was inconsistent
with the Commonwealth legislation” and therefore unlawful.
This is because, from the time of federation, nationality and citizenship were
matters for federal, not state law.
Under British law that had remained unchanged since the 17th century, all
Aboriginal Australians were already considered British subjects under colonial
rule. And in 1948, the Nationality and Citizenship Act gave citizenship to all
Australians previously deemed British subjects, including Aboriginal people.
Noongar activists knew they were already citizens under the laws imposed by
white settlers and called for the rights and protections that should have been
granted to them."
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics