Dr Prince deftly shows that this move was made possible in part by the misuse of the term ‘alien’ in late nineteenth-century imperial and Australian legal discourse
ANU Law alumnus Dr Peter Prince (LLB Hons '00, GDLP '00, PhD ‘16) has won a NSW History Council Prize for his essay on the legal decision that led to the mass deportation of Australian South Sea Islanders in the early 20th Century.
He received the Deen De Bortoli Award for Applied History for ‘Australia’s most inhumane mass deportation abuse’: Robtelmes v Brenan and expulsion of the ‘Alien’ Islanders which appeared in 5 law&history 117 (2018).
“I had the honour last year of speaking at the annual symposium of the Australian South Seas Islander Association in Sydney,” Dr Prince said.
“I hope the article for which I won this award can contribute to their ongoing campaign for proper recognition.”
NSW History Council judges called his essay “well-researched and elegantly argued”. It examined early modern common law precedent and imperial history and showed that that Robtelmes v Brennan, a 1906 High Court judgment, was reached on the grounds of racist policy, not the interpretation of statute.
“Dr Prince deftly shows that this move was made possible in part by the misuse of the term ‘alien’ in late nineteenth-century imperial and Australian legal discourse,” the judging panel said.
“The outcome? The mass deportation of Pacific Islanders from Queensland, some of whom had formed families on Australian soil.”
Dr Prince’s essay flows from research in the ANU College of Law about the Constitutional power the Australian Commonwealth can wield over so-called ‘aliens’.
“When researching my PhD, I noted High Court Chief Justice Griffith’s statement in Robtelmes v Brenan (1906) that Australian Islanders were ‘indisputably alien’ – and that therefore they could validly be expelled from this country under the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901 authorised by s 51(xix) of the Constitution (the ‘naturalization and aliens’ power),” Dr Prince said.
“I thought the Chief Justice’s statement should be tested, not least given the consequences for Islander families uprooted from Australia. This article is the result.”