DFAT’s Dills

public servantI have come to the conclusion that if one lives long enough, one will experience every form of stupidity and incompetence which the bureaucratic mind is capable of inventing. And so it came to pass that an anguished phone call from my daughter exposed the startling fact that the Department of Home Affairs has declared her a stateless person, also revealing in the process the existence of an hitherto secret section – the “Citizenship-PNG Unit”, based in Brisbane.

I have to back-pedal more than sixty years to explain this latest example of Australia’s inability to come to grips with its colonial history in post-war Papua New Guinea. In 1957 my wife and I, newly married, landed in Pt. Moresby on my first overseas assignment as the ABC’s Journalist in Charge. In a freshly amalgamated territory, forged from the former Australian colony of Papua and the former German colony of New Guinea under a United Nations Trusteeship, still staggering from a devastating war, it was a reporter’s dream job.

Not though, an easy life. Our home was a condemned army hut with no windows, only openings with arc-mesh and flywire. Similarly my “office”,  which leaked so badly I had to climb on the roof and patch a hundred holes in the fibro.  Most food arrived frozen in the monthly Burns Philp ships; fruit and vegetables were just starting to dribble in from the fertile highlands by air, at great expense. Ela Beach, at the foot of the town’s main street, still had its sign: “European swimming only.”

The following year we welcomed into our world a darling daughter. We  subsequently took her back to Australia, to Pt Moresby again for a second term, this time to train the first Papuan and New Guinea journalists, to London, and back again to Sydney. As she peeled off from her parents’ passports to fly her own life, she had no difficulty in obtaining her own, and renewing it at least four times.

Suddenly, an unexpected and unnecessary crisis. Six months before its expiry, she applied for the renewal of her passport. What she got from the Passport Office in Melbourne was a pro forma reply saying her Australian passport application (sic) cannot proceed at this stage as the evidence produced (her current passport, now defaced by clipped pages)  is not sufficient to confirm Australian citizenship. It required her to obtain evidence of Australian citizenship. Why? Because Sophie in the Passport Office had ticked a box saying: “Other – born in Papua New Guinea”.

Attempts to reason with senior officials in Home Affairs and DFAT produced the same response – despite already being the holder of an Australian passport, several times renewed, she had to prove her citizenship simply because she was born in PNG before 1975. Hence my daughter’s cry for help. She needed her birth certificate, the birth certificates for her father and mother (me and my wife) and the places and dates of birth of our parents, to complete Form 119.  Fortunately we keep a good family file of such important documents, she was able to submit copies, together with the extortionate fee of $198.

Until a certificate of citizenship was issued, she was sternly advised, she was a stateless person. Meanwhile she has had her valid passport cancelled, prevented from travelling overseas and subjected to self-evident irrelevant hassle.

Now my daughter is a lawyer, in a legal position associated with the New South Wales Supreme Court. This issue will not stop bouncing until someone well above the low-level bureaucratic loop in which it is trapped takes hold.  Her situation is not unlike many dozens, probably hundreds of children born to parents serving during the 1945-1975 Australian trusteeship of PNG.

The real question is why it has arisen just now. Is it somehow a consequence of the dual-citizenship fandango in federal parliament, or perhaps a renewed attempt to clamp down on PNG immigration? Why is a valid passport together with other identity documents, not acceptable proof of citizenship?

Those are the questions. Now we want answers. Over to you, Foreign Minister Bishop, as it is your department which issues passports.

Geoffrey Luck was an ABC journalist for 26 years


editor’s note: this story was first and briefly published under the headline “Dutton’s Dills”, but the immigration minister’s parliamentary office has pointed out the that issuance of passports is the bailiwick of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. The headline and final paragraph have been changed accordingly.

13 thoughts on “DFAT’s Dills

  • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

    Minister Dutton is better than most Ministers of this shambles o a government. However, his staff will need to be properly primed before he will be presented with your daughter’s problem and given an opportunity to solve it. It may not please your loyal ABC heart, but the best ministerial staff primer currently going around is a certain Ray Hadley of Radio 2GB. Unfairly called a “shock jock” by the usual suspects, he regularly moves bureaucratic mountains. When all else fails, and it almost certainly will, give him a call.

    • Warty says:

      Ray Hadley was apparently brought up on the wrong side of the tracks, but as DT suggests, his influence is considerable, to the extent he perhaps is a ‘king maker’, though not in the big noting way Jody suggests. His campaign to save greyhound racing in NSW had me as a convert, despite my never been to a greyhound race in my life. Were he a politician, he’d be what they call a conviction politician along the Mark Latham lines, but there again, the elites would mark him down for that too. Little wonder the sheer evasiveness of Morrison got up his nostril, and little wonder he has an affinity with that other ‘conviction’ politician in Tony Abbott.

      • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

        A close friend who has spent many years of her working life as a senior executive of an organisation raising funds for an important children’s charity knows Hadley very well. She will not hear a word against him, and insists that his charity work is completely unheralded and incomparable.

        • lloveday says:

          Today’s article by Hadley is pay-walled, as usual, and I’ll not breach copyright by reproducing it in full here, but as an example of the commonsense he typically writes, here’s the opening few sentences:

          “POLITICAL correctness is all around us, but the type that really bothers me always comes up around the holidays.

          It happens every Easter when parents want to have an Easter bonnet parade, only to be confronted by school administrators and bureaucrats who say we can’t have a parade because it might offend some other group, such as Muslims.

          Then, whenever a parade does happen, I get lots of calls and emails from Muslim parents who thought it was great fun. It’s the same thing with Christmas when shopping centres say they can’t play carols for the same reason — that they don’t want to ­offend anyone.

          But then if you travel to countries such as Indonesia, or in the Middle East, all the shopping centres play Christmas music.

          • mburke@pcug.org.au says:

            We lived in Malaysia for a couple of years back in the early 1970s, and I’ve returned twice for a week or so each time in the mid and late 1980s. Although the weight of an increasingly dictatorial government was already impinging on religious freedom, Malaysia still celebrated the major Hindu and Christian holidays, and all groups participated in the celebrations, either diectly or on the periphery. We found none of the po-faced bigotry so evident among the zealous guardians of “multiculturalism” here.

          • lloveday says:

            I lived in Jakarta for a few years, have frequently visited since, and the shopping malls were, and are, far more “Christmassy” than Australian ones, both with music and decorations.

            Here are the 2018 Indonesian public holidays – they celebrate Chinese culture as well as Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian traditional days:

            1 Jan New Year’s Day
            16 Feb Chinese New Year
            17 Mar Bali Hindu New Year
            30 Mar Good Friday
            14 Apr Isra Mi’raj (The Ascension of the Prophet Muhammad)
            1 May Labour Day
            10 May Ascension Day of Jesus Christ
            29 May Waisak Day (celebrates the life, death, and enlightenment of Buddha)
            1 Jun Pancasila Day (foundational philosophical theory of Indonesia)
            11 Jun to 14 Jun Lebaran Holiday
            15 Jun to 16 Jun Hari Raya Idul Fitri
            18 Jun to 20 Jun Lebaran Holiday
            27 Jun Regional Elections Day
            17 Aug Independence Day
            22 Aug Idul Adha (Islamic Day of Sacrifice)
            11 Sep Islamic New Year
            20 Nov Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
            24 Dec Christmas Holiday
            25 Dec Christmas Day

  • Jody says:

    Hadley is a real shock jock and he imagines himself a ‘king maker’. First Morrison then, when he fell foul, a return to Tony Abbott. Who the hell does he think he is; nobody but gulls listens to him and his reckless, bogan cant.

  • ianl says:

    > ” Over to you, Foreign Minister Bishop, as it is your department which issues passports”

    One can only hope that the treacherous Stick Insect eventually goes down. I don’t care who does it.

    Now for a nose (Jody’s, perhaps) in the air … again.

    BTW, I have no idea who this Hadley is, nor care, but bureaucracies run on the constant whine that “they have a country to run” and so spend inordinate amounts of time developing and applying gotchas to ensure they stay in charge. After all, if the law and its’ regulations remained constant, the lumpenprole would find ways around it.

    • Len says:


      You cannot expect DFAT to look after the interests of Australians such as your daughter when they are concentrating on ensuring that we fall into line with the objectives of the international order as defined and controlled by the United Nations.

      Thank heaven for shock jocks. This morning Alan Jones interviewed Peter Dutton on 2 GB on the subject of the Global Compact for Migration see: https://www.2gb.com/not-in-its-current-form-immigration-minister-rules-out-global-migration-deal-sort-of/

      The agreement’s final draft was released this month. It has apparently been under negotiation for 18 months and is to be signed in Morocco in December. Who knew?

      According to one UN explanation:

      “The Global Compact is the culmination of thematic discussions and consultations among Member States and such actors as local officials, civil society representatives and migrants themselves; stocktaking and reflection on the views that were shared; and intergovernmental negotiations. In total, this open, transparent and inclusive process lasting over 18 months led to unprecedented dialogue and learning by all participants on the realities of international migration. The agreement now forms a basis to improve the governance and international on migration, to address the challenges associated with migration today, and to strengthen the contribution of migrants and migration to sustainable development.”

      It appears that despite an “open, transparent and inclusive process”, the largest body of people likely to be affected at least in Australia, ie, the general population, have not been consulted. Or have I missed something over the last 18 months?

      In response to Jones’ questioning, Dutton claimed Australia would not be signing the agreement in its current form. But this is supposedly the final draft – when could it be expected to be amended to reflect Australia’s different position – if there is one?

      Would not the safest action have been, or be, to follow the lead of the US and Hungary? – see:

      I will leave you to make your own assessments of the likelihood of our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister being bold enough to protect the interests of Australians.

  • SB says:

    I recall reading once that Australia is a signatory to, and presumably has ratified, whatever the convention is on statelessness. I guess the only issue is whether the child is a PNG citizen by birth, if there were such a thing as a PNG citizen during the ‘protectorate’ years – I don’t know the answer to that.
    And to Warty I say: people aren’t always what they seem – or pretend to be.

  • ianl says:

    Became busy, but meant to return with this information:

    a short while ago I updated my Apex Business card (just renewed). The number of countries now listed as visa-free for Australians is 3 less than the old card I replaced. Missing now are Mexico, PNG, Taiwan. One can guess the unpublicised reasons from DFAT for these cut-outs.

    I suggest this is the base reason for the current difficulties that Geoffrey Luck’s daughter is experiencing.

    DFAT, Waffle, Insect. So sneaky, so treacherous. Taiwan in particular is now quietly dropped to give substance to a One-China policy … pleasing whom ?

    • lloveday says:

      Assuming you (via your Apex Business card) are correct and Mexico, PNG and Taiwan are no longer “visa-free for Australians”:

      Don’t Mexico, PNG and Taiwan make the decision as to who may enter their country visa-free, just as Australia determines who needs a visa to enter Australia?

      “Taiwan in particular is now quietly dropped…”. Didn’t Taiwan drop Australia, not vice versa?

      How would DFAT know why, let alone feel obliged to inform Australians of why they must get a visa? Sufficient surely to say which countries require visas under what conditions.

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