Australian Passport cover
Original Published Date: 
Thursday, October 15, 2020

What does it mean legally to ‘be’ an Australian? What role does the law play in shaping theories of belonging to Australia, and concepts of citizenship and Australian nationhood? A new research project led by Dr Rayner Thwaites at Macquarie University, and funded through the ARC's 2020 Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture, will address these questions, exploring key constitutional cases in which individual claims to ‘belong’ were the central issue.

Addressing fundamental issues about the relationship between citizenship and membership of the Australian community, the research will contextualise these cases in the social and political culture of their time. It will undertake original archival research on key constitutional cases in which an individual’s claim to ‘belong’ to Australia was the central issue, for instance a High Court ruling in 2020 that non-citizen Aboriginal Australians were ‘belongers’ who could not be constitutional aliens.

The project aims to identify what it means, and has meant, legally, to ‘be’ Australian. Outcomes of will include a historically grounded understanding of what makes Australian society cohere, and the challenges created at key points in time by shifting and sometimes conflicting legal and social visions of Australian citizenship. It will also address larger, fundamental issues about the relationship between citizenship and membership of the Australian community, and the challenges created by shifting and sometimes conflicting legal and social visions of ‘being’ Australian.

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Image: Wikipedia (Public Domain).