Troyrone Lee was born to Australian citizen parents in, what was then, the external territory of Papua (Papua) on 20 May 1975. This was a few months before PNG achieved independence in September 1975.

Mr Lee had held an Australian passport for 42 years, which had been renewed, without question, on numerous occasions. All that changed in December 2016, when his application to renew his passport was denied on the grounds that he was not an Australian citizen. He was (apparently) a citizen of Papua New Guinea (PNG). One of the problems with that was that the PNG government was saying he wasn’t.

Well, who was right?

Minister for Home Affairs v Lee [2021] FCAFC 89

The judgment is 108 paragraphs long and involved consideration of complex issues arising out of the PNG Constitution, PNG Independence Act, the common law of PNG, the interpretation of the 1948 Citizenship Act as well as numerous Australian constitutional concepts such as naturalisation and who is an immigrant (including whether Papua was ever a foreign country). I also didn’t realise that at common law, if your parents were married you acquired the domicile of your father. If they weren’t married you acquired the domicile of your mother.

Ultimately, Mr Lee was found never to have been an “immigrant” and was always part of the Australian community.

I must also admit that I liked the last paragraph of the judgment:

We would respectfully add the following. It may perhaps be that, with the lapse of time and related inter-generational turnover of personnel between when Mrs Lee was given advice by Australia’s post in Port Moresby about the ongoing citizenship status of her infant son and modern times, memory has been lost in Australian officialdom, in contrast it seems with their counterparts in Papua New Guinea, of just how pregnant with meaning for Papua New Guineans, and Papuans in particular, was the expression “no … real foreign citizenship” in PNG’s Constitution. There is no evidence at all that either the Minister or those advising him in his department ever acted in bad faith in advising Mr Lee that he had become a citizen of Papua New Guinea on Independence, only that they were mistaken. Even so, the mistake made in good faith has plainly had an emotive and economic impact on Mr Lee. In these circumstances, it may well be that Mr Lee’s case is one which warrants consideration by the Commonwealth of the making of an Act of Grace payment to him.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph

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