Australian citizenship

13 June, 2010

Passport - Issued to Mrs L. Sigalas, Commonwealth of Australia, 1939.
Passport - Issued to Mrs L. Sigalas, Commonwealth of Australia, 1939.
Image: John Broomfield
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: What is Australian citizenship?

Answer: The notion of citizenship can be difficult to define, partly because the word itself is widely understood to have at least two meanings. It sometimes refers to a political category; at other times it describes membership of a community. It can also be used to define a generally-accepted mode of social behaviour.

While citizenship is not mentioned in the Australian constitution, the category of citizen does exist and confers a number of privileges and obligations. Australian citizenship can be conferred by birth, adoption, descent or grant of citizenship. Citizenship is described in a number of Acts by the Australian government, most notably the Australian Citizenship Acts of 1948 and 2007.

When Australian residents become citizens they are granted the right to vote in state and federal elections, and to represent their fellow Australians by standing for election. They are also able to serve on a jury and to travel freely in and out of Australia.

Residents of Australia who are not Australian citizens are generally ineligible to vote in elections and stand for parliament. However, they are able to join the Australian defence forces, and under certain conditions can be conscripted to do so. This was the case during the Vietnam War.

Citizenship is seen as a privilege conferred on an individual by the State. New applicants to become Australian citizens by grant of citizenship must complete an application process that includes a test. The aims of this citizenship test are to ensure that applicants have an adequate understanding of Australian citizenship and a working knowledge of English.

The history of Australian citizenship reflects the nation’s history of political change. Non-indigenous women could become citizens from 1902 onwards, but it was only in 1963 that Aboriginal Australians of both sexes were granted the same right.

Comments (6)

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leon 6 December, 2012 17:57
Hi, I migrated to Australia with my parents in 1960. I was 7 at the time. I have resided in Australia since then. I would now like to become an Australian citizen. I've been to the dept of Imigration website but they dont seem to cater for my situation as they refer to the requirement to have held a visa for 4 years. does this mean I need to first apply for a visa and then in 4 years time apply for citizenship? I would think that it wouldn't. Thanks Ian
Discovery Centre 7 December, 2012 16:41
Hi Leon, consider contacting the National Archives of Australia regarding your arrival records.  With this information, the Immigration Department should be able to assist you further.
Ian Seaman 31 March, 2015 22:26
Hi. My mother in law migrated to oz in 1959 with her father, mother and 2 sisters and stayed for 4 years. We have records of them being here but are unsure if they would be citizens now. Please help
Discovery Centre 1 April, 2015 09:58
Hi Ian - For current citizenship questions, you'll need to ask the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Robert McMahon 27 April, 2017 08:13
Hi, I came to Australia from England in 1957 aged six. I have worked here all my life and recently retired. I also completed my 18 months national service on the 2/1972. I have the boarding list of the boat we came out on. I am trying to become an Australian citizen, but can't get anywhere as I'm over 60.
Discovery Centre 29 April, 2017 12:20

Hi Robert,

All immigration records after 1923 are held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA). Unfortunately, only about 30% of records have been put up online, so if you cannot find your record, you will need to contact the NAA directly.

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