Be a citizen not a subject

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The cheerless teacup warriors from the Australian Monarchist League have been at it again. This time they have protested to Myer Stores regarding their promotion of the slogan in advertising for Republic Clothing Company products: ‘Be a Citizen. Not a Subject’. In fact, we are all Australian citizens and no longer British subjects, something monarchists can’t seem to come to terms with, writes history editor Dr Glenn Davies.

The Third National Republican Short Story Competition winners will be announced on 26 January 2012. The theme this year is ‘Citizen or Subject’. The difference between citizen and subject has often been glibly said to be that a citizen has rights whereas a subject has privileges. A subject owes their allegiance to a sovereign and is governed by that sovereign’s laws whereas a citizen owes allegiance to the community and is entitled to enjoy all its civil rights and protections. The difference between citizen and subject lies in where an individual places their allegiance: subjects (to a sovereign) and citizens (to a state; to a republic).

Until 1 January 1949, when the British Nationality Act 1948 came into force, at common law, to be a British subject, one simply had to be born in any territory under the sovereignty of the British Crown. From 1949 onwards, every person who was a British subject by virtue of a connection with the United Kingdom or one of her Crown colonies became a British citizen. However citizens of other Commonwealth countries retained the status of British subject and were known by the term Commonwealth citizen. From 1949 to 1982, a person born in England would have been a British subject and a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, while someone born in Australia would have been a British subject and a citizen of Australia. During this time Australian passports had on the front ‘BRITISH SUBJECT Australian Citizen’.

The status of British subject was retained in Australian law until Part II of the Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 was removed by the Australian Citizenship Amendment Act 1984 which came into force on 1 May 1987. Australia severed its final legal ties to Britain by enacting the Australia Acts of 1986. However, it must be said, we have yet to sever our final symbolic ties to Britain as represented by our head of state being the British monarch. In 1999, the High Court found British citizens to be ineligible to stand for election to our Federal Parliament because they owe allegiance to a ‘foreign power’.

In August 2008, Coopers Brewery was forced to drop a billboard ad urging beer lovers to 'Forget the monarchy, support the publicans' beside an image of a frothy schooner of beer after it angered the Australian Monarchist League. The billboard was believed to have been part of a national advertising campaign, but it was unknown how many of them were in use around Australia. The advertisement had received prior approval from the Advertising Standards Board. It was interesting that Cooper's and its advertising agency seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would take offence at the billboard ad.

On 27 April 2011, the ABC TV reluctantly cancelled its widely promoted program The Chaser’s Royal Wedding Commentary because of restrictions imposed on the coverage of the wedding ceremony from Westminster Abbey as agreed between Clarence House, the private office of the Prince of Wales and the BBC. At the time the ABC stated:

“We’re surprised and disappointed at this very late stage to be informed that any satirical or comedic treatment of the marriage of Australia’s future Head of State has been banned.”

The Chaser’s Julian Morrow said:

“For a monarchy to be issuing decrees about how the media should cover them seems quite out of keeping with modern democratic times …. but I suppose that’s exactly what the monarchy is.”

Most Australians like a bit of humour and larrikinism in their politics. Yet any beer ad, t-shirt or satirical show the cheerless monarchists get removed is seen as a victory. It is these teacup warriors who are out of step with contemporary Australia. ‘Be a Citizen. Not a Subject’. Thankfully we can finally do this in law — but the monarchists want to turn back the clock to be subjects to what the High Court called a ‘foreign power’. As Australians, we owe our allegiance to us — the people of Australia, which includes our comedy programs, our clothing, and our beer.

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