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Teresa Mullan has lived in Australia for more than half a century. During that time, she has raised children here, worked for three governments, voted at 10 federal elections and travelled the world on an Australian passport.
But when she tried to renew that passport ahead of an overseas holiday next month, she was refused a replacement because she could not prove she was an Australian citizen.
Teresa Mullan has been strip
Fairfax Media has found that, on the instruction of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), adoptees born overseas can no longer present their Australian birth certificate, issued as part of the adoption process, as lawful evidence of citizenship.
Neither the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade nor the DIBP would provide reasons for the changes when asked by Fairfax Media last week.
But those amendments, now being applied by the Australian Passport Office, mean there are potentially thousands of inter-country adoptees who assume they are bona-fide citizens but are now not regarded as one, even though they have held passports.
Ms Mullan likened the situation to a bad comedy sketch that has left her feeling humiliated and demoralised.
“This is yet another example of our ill-conceived and inhumane immigration and border protection laws,” Ms Mullan said. “After 52 years, am I somehow now a threat to national security? I feel as though my country has stripped me of my nationality and identity. This experience just highlights the government’s disregard for the sanctity of citizenship.”
ANU College of Law professor Kim Rubenstein, who has published a book exposing the flaws of citizenship laws, confirms a range of scenarios have emerged involving people who are Australian in “all but law”.
“That is, their lives have been fully lived in Australia yet they have fallen foul of technical distinctions and have not been recognised as Australian citizens,” she said.
Ms Mullan was born in New Zealand in December 1963 and adopted in Australia several months later, in March 1964. As an adult, she has always struggled with the heartbreaking narrative surrounding those events.
She was part of the “white stolen generation”, so-called to distinguish it from the Indigenous stolen generations, although the associated suffering was shared. In the five decades before 1982, the newborn babies of young, unmarried women were forcibly removed for adoption.
Ms Mullan’s birth mother, from Queensland, had kept her pregnancy secret by staying with nuns in Auckland.
But when she and the father returned to Brisbane and sought assistance from the state government, it separated her from the baby and made her sign adoption forms under duress.
Ms Mullan has since learnt from numerous relatives of her late mother’s desperate attempts to retrieve her.
Of her current plight, she asked: “If I was born to two Australian citizens, removed from them by the Queensland government and adopted out to two other Australians citizens, how can I not be a citizen?”
In a letter last December, DFAT formally denied her a full validity replacement passport because she could not present proof of citizenship through a citizenship certificate.
When she sought answers from passport personnel and the office of Immigration and Border Protection minister Peter Dutton, officials would only divulge that she was an “unintended consequence” of law changes that had affected a number of adopted people.
After she applied for her citizenship certificate, the DIBP deemed her paperwork invalid, stating in a letter that citizenship needed to be “acquired” by “conferral”. She has since been advised to apply for the required evidence by paying $190 to attend an interview, sit a test, swear her allegiance to Australia and attend a ceremony, where she would receive her certificate.
In the past few days, New Zealand has accepted Ms Mullan’s application for a passport – and recognised her as a citizen – even though she only spent a week there after her birth. While she described her relief as immense, questions still surround her status in Australia when she returns.
A spokesman for Mr Dutton said the department understood it could be distressing for long-term residents of Australia to discover they were not citizens “when they believed this to be the case for many years”.