This page considers the shape of Australian official registration
regarding citizenship, in particular passports and the
It covers -
page supplements discussion elsewhere on this site regarding
privacy, security and the Australia Card.
Citizenship provides an individual with the status of
a citizen: a full member of the civil community (and as
such enjoying rights, privileges and obligations of a
member of the body politic, including participation in
elections and a passport).
Australian citizenship may be obtained by -
in Australia (prior to 20 August 1988)
in Australia on or after that date where at least one
parent was a citizen or permanent resident
under the law of an Australian state or territory by
an Australian citizen
from an Australian citizen (in the case of a person
Rights enjoyed by citizens broadly include entitlement
vote and stand for public office
an Australian passport, to Australian consular protection
overseas and immunity from deportation
leave Australia and return at any time without requiring
a resident return visa
register overseas born children as Australian citizens
seek employment in federal government agencies and the
2001 census indicated that of the 18 plus million people
living in Australia at that time, approximately 16.56
million were citizens (of whom some 3.15 million were
The salient legislation is the Australian Citizenship
Act 1948 (ACA),
reflecting the federal parliament's power under s 51(xix)
of the Constitution
to make laws with respect to naturalisation and aliens.
Citizenship may be renounced or withdrawn in some circumstances
(eg through service in the armed forces of an enemy country
or through a migration-related fraud).
There is no single register or database of Australian
citizenship. In practice 'citizenship registers' include
registers of births, adoptions, deaths, marriages highlighted
in the preceding page of this note
The latter are significant for participation in political
processes. Members of parliament and some others contribute
information to pecuniary interests registers.
Documents that are normally used as evidence of Australian
citizenship include -
a valid Australian passport
an Australian birth certificate
Australian naturalisation certificate
a certificate of Australian citizenship by descent
is common when applying for a job, a scholarship or some
form of licence to supply one of those documents. In practice,
of course, the certificates are readily forged and may
simply be indicators (ie the birth certificate signals
that the individual was born in Australia but does not
demonstrate that the person is currently an Australian
The Passports Act 1938, discussed in
more detail in a separate note elsewhere
on this site, covers issue and use of Australian passports.
It has resulted in a national database of those people
who carry/have applied for an Australian passport. Data
is shared by Australian and overseas government agencies.
The passports database is complemented by a range of travel
databases. International carriers entering Australia from
overseas for example must comply with obligations under
the Migration Act 1958 and Migration Regulations
1994 regarding the identification of each aircraft/vessel
and all persons on board. That data feeds the Advance
Passenger Processing (APP) system, accessed by Australian
and overseas agencies, and migration databases.
Since 1 December 1973 all migrants have to satisfy common
criteria for naturalisation as an Australian citizen (preferential
treatment for British subjects was ended by the Australian
Citizenship Act 1973). Revised criteria since 1984
are broadly that applicants -
intend to reside in Australia (or maintain a "close
and continuing association" with Australia)
permanent resident status
present in Australia as a permanent resident for a total
of two years in the five years prior to application,
including a total of 12 months in the preceding two
the "responsibilities and privileges" of Australian
able to speak and understand basic English
the nature of the application
All applicants aged 16 or over must attend a citizenship
ceremony and make a formal Pledge of Commitment.
Naturalisation is formally registered, with the Department
of Immigration & Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) and
its predecessors maintaining a Citizenship Register from
Documentation for each applicant generally includes a
naturalisation certificate and case file, with the latter
featuring the application for citizenship, oath of allegiance
and other correspondence. It encompasses information on
the applicant's occupation, marital status, place and
date of birth, a physical description, parents' names,
nationality and travel outside Australia.
Official registration of eligible voters forms the basis
of electoral rolls maintained by the Australian Electoral
and state agencies.
Enrolment is compulsory for Commonwealth purposes for
Australian citizens who are 18 years of age or over and
who have lived at their current address for at least one
month. Since 1925 federal electoral enrolment has been
compulsory for all Australian citizens over the statutory
The states and territories have joint roll agreements
with the AEC: electors need complete only one form to
enrol for federal, state/territory and local government
The electoral rolls provide a 'weak identifier' that features
name, date of birth and address rather than a unique identification
number. That weakness is of course reduced when the information
is combined with one or more public/private data sets
such as HIC records, ATO records and commercial reference
Australian Electoral Law: A Stocktake (PDF)
by Graeme Orr, Bryan Mercurio & George Williams commented
in 2003 that
incidence of fraudulent enrolment, multiple voting,
'cemetery voting' (i.e., people voting in the names
of dead electors whose names are yet to be cleansed
from the roll) and impersonation is a matter for conjecture.
Convictions for multiple voting are almost non-existent.
But this may be because it is almost impossible to find
evidence to contradict an elector whose name was marked
off at different polling booths, but who denies voting
twice. (The possibilities of administrative error or
anonymous personation cast too much doubt on prosecution
in such cases.)
There is a more extensive discussion in Limiting Democracy:
The Erosion of Electoral Rights in Australia (Sydney:
UNSW Press 2006) by Colin Hughes & Brian Costar, the
Australian National Audit Office report
on Integrity of the Electoral Roll and 2001 User
friendly, not abuser friendly report
by the national parliament's Joint Standing Committee
on Electoral Matters (JSCEM).
Federal agencies with special access to the electoral
roll under the Electoral & Referendum Regulations
1940 include the Defence Department, Department of
Employment & Workplace Relations, Australia Post,
Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, Australian
Crime Commission, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation,
Centrelink and Director of Public Prosecutions.
The Australian electoral regimes do not require ordinary
citizens to specify affiliation with a particular political
party. Most people are not members of political parties
and there are anecdotal indications that members of parties
have, on occasion, voted for candidates of other parties.
However, the process for registration of a political party
(the prerequisite for a candidate to be identified on
the ballot paper as a party's representative rather than
an independent) requires that the Electoral Commission
be provided with a list of at least 500 members for each
party. That requirement has been unsuccessfully challenged
in the High Court.
The list held by the Electoral Commission is not published
by that organisation.
Pecuniary interest registers (ie formal disclosure of
the assets - and thus potential conflicts of interest
- of legislators, advisers and senior officials) in Australia
can be traced to report of the federal parliament's Joint
Committee on Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament.
Declaration of interests - with varying degrees of public
exposure - has spread from the national parliament to
state/territory legislatures, some local government councils,
ministerial offices and senior bureaucrats. Disclosure
is generally underpinned by sanctions for breaches of
the registration requirements.
At the federal level a confidential register of Ministers'
interests has been maintained by successive Prime Ministers
since 1978. It was extended to all members of the House
of Representatives (but not the Senate) in 1984.
Federal MPs are required to disclose shareholdings, directorships,
family and business trusts, real estate, assets over $5000,
liabilities, substantial sources of income, gifts over
a specified value and memberships of organisations.
Members may make discretionary disclosures (in relation
to any direct or indirect benefits, advantages or liabilities
that are not required to be disclosed) if the MP considers
the interest may constitute a conflict of between the
individual's personal interests and duties as a legislator.
State/territory legislatures typically require that members
of parliament, including Ministers, to make a declaration
of their pecuniary interests within one month of making
and subscribing an oath or affirmation as a Member. In
NSW for example that requirement is articulated in the
Constitution (Disclosures by Members) Regulation 1983.
The level of disclosure varies between the jurisdictions,
with Victoria for example only requiring identification
of any enterprise in which the MP held an office or a
beneficial interest exceeding $500 whereas the Queensland
regime requires detailed information and differentiates
between ordinary shareholdings, controlling interests
and stakes in holding companies.
Those declarations form a Public Register of Members'
Interests, generally maintained by an officer of the parliament
and oversighted by a parliamentary committee. A statement
of the interests of related persons is often maintained
in a private register by the Parliament. Each MP, including
Ministers, must formally notify any change in the details
contained in the last statement of interests within one
month of becoming aware of the change or, where there
are no changes a 'no change' of interests return no later
that 30 June each year.
Staff employed within Ministerial Offices are required
to ensure that their private interests do not conflict
with, or are not seen to be in conflict with, the discharge
of their official duties. They are accordingly required
to lodge a statement of pecuniary interests with their
relevant Minister on an annual basis no later than 30
June each year. The 'Statement of Pecuniary Interests'
provides details of the officer's interests together with
the interests (as known to the officer) of the officer's
partner and any dependants.
The legal basis for registers in the main jurisdictions
Parliament - House of Representatives Resolution
(9 October 1984) and Special Order of the Senate
(17 March 1994)
Capital Territory - Resolution of the House
7 April 1992
South Wales - Constitution (Disclosures by Members)
Territory - Legislative Assembly (Register of Members'
Interests) Act 1992
- Resolution of the House (25 May 1999)
Australia - Members of Parliament (Register of Interests)
- Parliamentary (Disclosure of Interests) Act 1996
- Members of Parliament (Register of Interests)
Australia - Members of Parliament (Financial Interests)
about lobbying and pecuniary interest registers are discussed
in more detail in the advocacy
note elsewhere on this site.
Pointers to works on the shape of citizenship in Australia
and other societies are here
They include John Torpey's The Invention of the Passport:
Surveillance, Citizenship & the State (Cambridge:
Cambridge Uni Press 2000), Documenting Individual
Identity: The Development of State Practices since the
French Revolution (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press
2001) co-edited by Torpey & Jane Caplan, From
Subject to Citizen: Australian Citizenship in the Twentieth
Century (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni Press 1997) by
Alastair Davidson, Citizens without Rights: Aborigines
& Australian Citizenship (Cambridge: Cambridge
Uni Press 1997) by John Chesterman & Brian Galligan
and Redefining Australians: Immigration, Citizenship
& National Identity (Marrickville: Hale &
Iremonger 1995) by Ann-Mari Jordens.
For electoral registration see User Friendly, Not
Abuser Friendly: Report of the Inquiry into the Integrity
of the Electoral Roll (2001, here)
by the federal parliament Joint Standing Committee on
Electoral Matters, Integrity of the Electoral Roll,
Audit Report No 42 (2001-02) by the Australian National
Audit Office and The Integrity of the Electoral Roll:
Review of ANAO Report No 42 2001-02 (here)
by the parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Electoral