August 13, 2015

Horse 1958 - On Citizenship

Mrs Rollo who is an American, is pursuing the idea of becoming an Australian citizen. After having lived in this wide brown land, which is about three quarters of a mile from the sun in summer and which then plunges the populace into the dairy supermarket freezer in the winter, for the last seven years this starts to make a degree of sense. It's quite reasonable to throw your lot in with the nation who you intend to spend a lot of time with. She, like the great majority of recent migrants, will make an excellent citizen.

I on the other hand am a terrible citizen. Whilst I do obey the law, pay taxes to whom taxes are due, and perform my civic duties of voting and would serve on a jury or the defence forces if called to, I am uneasy about my citizenship and seriously question some of the causes, policies and actions which the nation has done in recent years and continues to do.
In a broad patriotic sense, I'm not particularly good at bearing my allegiance to this nation either. In the sporting arena my heart lies with a sceptred isle, built by nature for herself as a fortress against the hands of war and disease. Three Lions adorn my shirts and I rejoiced when England went 3-1 up to win the Ashes. I also regularly experience disappointment once every four years when England fails yet again at the football World Cup. I am convinced that in many respects, that my possession of a green passport is an historical accident and the time in my life when I felt the most "home" was when I was once in a traffic jam, waiting to plunge into the Queensway Mersey Tunnel and staring across the Mersey at the Royal Liver Building. I think that I identify more with the British characteristics of complaining, queuing and being perpetually disappointed (and writing strongly worded letters to the editor) than I do with the supposed Australian ideals of mateship and the "fair go" which booth sound great as rhetoric but seem to evaporate when asked to be put into practice.

In due course if Mrs Rollo wants to become an Australian citizen she will need to sit a citizenship exam. I thought that such an exam would be easy and so, without any study I took sample citizenship exams online for both Australia and the United States. I scored 100/100 on the Australian citizenship exam but only got 98/100 on the American exam because I didn't know who Susan B Anthony was and I don't know who the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court is.
If passing an exam is practically the only qualification for citizenship of a country, then I reckon that I could be a citizen of most of the Anglophone world. That's a bit sad. I feel that citizenship should be more than just about passing an exam.

The concept of citizenship is for the most part, entirely ignored by the people who enjoy it. Being a citizen of a country entitles the person to certain legal rights such as the right to vote, the right to work, the right to hold property is some jurisdictions and in theory the right to assistance if in trouble when in another country, as well as legal responsibilities of being called to serve the country on juries, in the defence forces if the country goes to war and in the case of Australia, the responsibility of casting one's vote at the ballot box.
Citizenship is the legal binding of a person to a country and more nebulously the reciprocal binding of that country to the person.

It's not like citizenship is a new concept either. In the book of Acts in the New Testament, Paul is held and bound and waits trial precisely because he was a Roman Citizen; after an uproar in Jerusalem. There is much ado made about the fact that as a citizen, Paul was entitled to a certain level of treatment by the state and its agents and this results in much dithering.
Citizenship was an older concept than that though, with the Greek city states conferring citizenship upon their people as early as the mid 700s BCE. The idea that someone had rights and was able to exercise them was special, when compared with many people who in effect had no real right and slaves who were legal chattel.

A lot of what we consider to be the obligations of states to their citizens and the reciprocal duties of citizens to their states, only really began to solidify during the enlightenment and the. The industrial revolution when the rise of the middle class and their duty to pay taxation was questioned because the citizenry started to demand some sort of benefit from the state they were paying taxes to. The extension of the franchise is inexorably tied to the concept of being a citizen; as is the beginning of questioning about human rights generally.
Australia, which came to the party of statehood relatively late in the piece, had already extended the franchise to most of its citizens by 1902 and made some hideous mistakes with regards Aboriginal peoples; only correcting that in 1962 with amendments to the Commonwealth Electoral Act*.

For most practical purposes though, citizenship doesn't really change all that much. If you happen to be living somewhere as a permanent resident, by virtue of that residency you already are entitled to many of the services that the state delivers. Granted that I am grateful for the privileges which my citizenship entitles me to, I'm still mostly ambivalent to a sense of patriotism. Given that Mrs Rollo came from the United States, which has its own sense of super-hyper-ultra patriotism which descends into parody and is self-aware of the fact, I don't think that she'd be particularly openly patriotic about Australia either.
What citizenship does though is bind you to the nation. If we were to move to the United States, then I would consider becoming an American citizen because if I was to live there for any considerable amount of time, I'd want a say in how the country was run. I have that in Australia because my citizenship is by default but Mrs Rollo would have that through choice.

*The 1967 referendum amended the Constitution to include Aboriginal peoples in population counts in section 127 and to remove the "race" power from section 51.

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