Federal government appeals court ruling recognising man born in pre-independence PNG as Australian

Troyrone Zen Lee won a four-year battle to have his Australian citizenship recognised last month.

Troyrone Lee has fought with Home Affairs for four years to retain his Australian citizenship.

Troyrone Lee has fought with Home Affairs for four years to retain his Australian citizenship. Source: Supplied

The federal government has lodged an appeal to overturn a Federal Court decision recognising the Australian citizenship of a man born in pre-independence Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Troyrone Zen Lee after being told in 2016 he was not an Australian citizen.

Mr Lee, who has lived in Brisbane since the early 1980s, was born in May 1975 in Port Moresby in the Australian external territory of Papua - four months before PNG became an independent country.

In his April judgment, Federal Court judge Darryl Rangiah ruled that at the time PNG became independent, Mr Lee fell within s65(4)(a) of the PNG Constitution "as a person who had the right to permanent residence in Australia and that therefore did not make him a PNG citizen”.

“I make the declaration that the applicant is an ‘Australian citizen’.”

Court documents filed on Friday show the Department of Home Affairs is appealing on the grounds that Justice Rangiah erred in finding Mr Lee was not an “immigrant” under the then Australian Migration Act after PNG independence in September 1975.

The appeal rejects the Federal Court ruling that Mr Lee had the right to Australian permanent residence, did not become a PNG citizen, and had never ceased to be an Australian citizen after independence, and remains an Australian citizen.

Both Mr Lee’s parents are Australian citizens, as are his father’s parents and his younger siblings, who were born in post-independence PNG and obtained Australian citizenship by descent.

“I am indeed deeply disappointed that Home Affairs has decided to make an appeal, but we will keep motoring on until this is finished,” Mr Lee told SBS News.

“Having done nothing wrong and confirmed in the Federal Court that I am an Australia citizen, it would seem there is no error with my status under the Australian Citizenship Act, yet Home Affairs continue to be unfair in dragging out this issue.”

Troy Lee (2nd from right) at the federal court with (r to l) lawyer Matt Black, father Gordon Lee, mother Amy Lee, barrister Kim Rubenstein, and lawyer Michael Source: Michael Chan
Troyrone Zen Lee (second from right) at the Federal Court with his lawyers and family members. Source: Michael Chan

Many PNG-born Australians have been caught out by Australian legislative changes that have resulted in the cancellation of their passports and citizenship certificates, rendering some technically stateless.

The federal government has argued the documents had been incorrectly issued for up to four decades and told those affected to apply for Australian citizenship. 

Mr Lee travelled with his mother repeatedly to Australia after PNG independence on her passport and was issued with an Australian passport in 1979 before the family settled permanently in Brisbane in 1982.

Four years ago when he tried to renew his passport, his application was refused.

In the Federal Court hearing, a submission by the acting immigration minister Alan Tudge argued Mr Lee lost his Australian citizenship when PNG became independent in 1975.

"As the matter is before the court it would be inappropriate to comment," the Department of Home Affairs said in a statement to SBS News on Tuesday. 

3 min read
Published 19 May 2020 at 5:16pm
By Stefan Armbruster