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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 1083


Mr COLEMAN(7.14) —I wish to draw the House's attention to an extraordinary case of the denial of Australian citizenship to a woman who grew up in Australia, who was educated here, who carried an Australian passport for years, whose parents were or are both Australian citizens, whose mother was born in Australia, whose father served in the Australian Imperial Force and who knows in her bones that she is an Australian, whatever the law says. This is the case of Dr Geraldine Room, of Sydney, now residing in London.

This anomalous situation arises from the wording of the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 which first created Australian citizenship and defined the necessary qualifications. Geraldine Room's mother was an Australian by birth. Her father, the late Professor Thomas Room, was born in the United Kingdom and migrated to Australia in 1935 to take the Chair of Mathematics at the University of Sydney. He served with a cryptography unit in the AIF throughout the Second World War and until 1961 continued to spend part of his annual vacation working with the Defence Signals Branch at Victoria Barracks. As well as being head of either mathematics or pure mathematics at the University of Sydney, he also served two periods as the Dean of the Faculty of Science. He was a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Sciences. He automatically acquired Australian citizenship in 1949 because he was a British subject and met the residency test of the new Act.

Geraldine Room was born in Seattle in the United States on 14 November 1948 when Professor Room was on sabbatical leave. The newly born Geraldine was registered at the Australian Consulate in San Francisco on 24 January 1949, two days before the major changes of the new Citizenship Act were to take effect-with the extraordinary consequences for Geraldine Room. The Rooms state that the Australian Consulate staff in San Francisco gave them no warning that their daughter would not automatically be an Australian citizen or that any further steps would be required for her to become an Australian citizen. The Rooms understood that they had fulfilled all the formalities necessary for their daughter to be an Australian citizen. Geraldine Room and her family returned to Australia early in 1949 and she lived in Sydney until 1978 when work commitments took her to England on her Australian passport, convinced that she was, as she always had been, an Australian citizen.

However, when she applied for a new passport she was shocked to learn otherwise. The Australian Citizenship Act 1948 and its transitional provisions ruled her out. This is because the Act says in essence that children born overseas only become citizens if immediately prior to the commencement of the Act-that is, on 26 January 1949-the father had been a British subject born or naturalised in Australia. Professor Room was a British subject but he had not been born or naturalised in Australia. He himself became a citizen by easily meeting the residency test. As for the Seattle-born Geraldine, she could have, at any time up to 30 November 1973, acquired Australian citizenship by simple registration if she or her parents had known of her problematic status in law. Or after that she could have easily acquired it under the residency test. But now she lives abroad and is not in a position to meet the current two years residency test.

Dr Room left Australia in 1978 on a scholarship from the Coppelson Institute of the University of Sydney to become a Research Fellow at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology in London. She now works as a general physician and rheumatologist and has responsibilities as a district clinical tutor. She is registered to practise medicine in New South Wales and is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. She maintains continuing close links with Australia, both professionally and with her family. She hopes to be able to work here in the future and she naturally wants legal citizenship of the country of which she and here family are part. But she cannot crack the Australian Citizenship Act and its transitional provisions. I should add that the officers of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs have been helpful and co-operative but they see themselves as bound by the plain enough wording of the Act and the transitional provisions. I cannot believe that the draftsmen of the Act or the Parliament which passed it into law in 1948 intended to deprive people such as Geraldine Room of their citizenship. I implore the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Young) to look into this extraordinary case and, if necessary, introduce amendments to the Act to correct the situation.