"Aussie Or A WOG. You Can’t Be Both": New Citizenship Laws Say You Can (Australia)

'Aussie or a wog, you can't be both': new citizenship laws say you can

James Button Herald Correspondent in London
The Sydney Morning Herald
June 30, 2007

SANDRA DESIRA left Australia with her family when she was eight. Her parents had migrated to Melbourne but changed their minds after they missed their home in Malta. Their daughter grew up in Malta missing Melbourne. One day, she thought, perhaps she would return.

However, in 1994, just before Ms Desira's 19th birthday, the Maltese government instructed her employer to sack her unless she renounced her Australian citizenship. Until then she had been Australian by birth and Maltese by descent. But the Maltese law barred adults from holding dual citizenship. If she wanted to keep her job, she could be only Maltese.

Even so, Ms Desira went to the Australian high commission to see if there was a way she could stay Australian. “No, mate, you've got to decide,” said the front-desk officer, a Maltese.

“You can be an Aussie or a wog, but you can't be both.”

The news devastated Ms Desira but she had no choice. She signed the form and renounced her Australian citizenship.

Tomorrow, though, when the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 comes into force, Sandra Portelli (her married name) can apply to resume her citizenship, while also staying Maltese.

The change is a joy for Ms Portelli, 32, a mint worker who makes bank notes. It is also a triumph for the Southern Cross Group, which represents expatriates and has campaigned since 2000 to allow Australians to be citizens of two countries.

After World War II nearly all countries introduced laws preventing dual citizenship. The 1948 Citizenship Act meant that Australians who moved overseas and were naturalised were stripped of their old nationality.

About 50,000 Australians – including at least 15,000 war brides who moved to the US – lost citizenship between 1948 and 2002, according to group figures.

A smaller category of expatriate Australians – chiefly about 2000 Australian-born Maltese – were forced to renounce their citizenship in order to acquire full rights in the countries they moved to.

In 2002 the Government repealed the section of the 1948 act that stripped Australian citizenship from people who acquired another citizenship. The 2007 act takes the next step.

Anne MacGregor, a Brussels-based Australian lawyer who helped found the group, said the new act reflected the acceptance of dual citizenship in most countries. It brought Australia “into the 21st century”.

For Ms Portelli, who plans to obtain the necessary forms from the Australian high commission next week, a long battle is ending. At 21 she went back to Melbourne for the first time, on a holiday. “In Australia I'm a different person,” she said. “The smell, the food, the people, my childhood memories – I like everything about it.”

In Malta “I bawl my eyes out”, she said, watching documentaries about Australia. While in Melbourne she applied to resume citizenship but after a long fight the Immigration Department refused her application. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal endorsed the decision.

As elated as Ms Portelli is this weekend, her daughter, Jamie Lee, 2, is not eligible to become Australian, since the act does not extend that right to children born outside Australia to parents who have formally renounced their citizenship.

Labor has promised to amend this if it wins power.

Ms Portelli is looking forward to her next trip to Australia – on an Australian passport.

She has a further hope: that “my husband comes to love Australia as much as I do, and says, 'Let's come and live here.' That would be beautiful.”