Citizen Reef?

Citizen Reef?

Private Law

Today LADbible launched a campaign labelled ‘Citizen Reef’ petitioning for the Great Barrier Reef to be granted Australian citizenship. The idea behind the push is to increase the Reef’s protection by ensuring it has the rights to freedom from torture, minimum standards of healthcare and the right to life, as any other citizen. We look at whether this is this merely a publicity stunt, or there is a legal basis for this argument.

The Whanganui and Ganges Rivers

Some commentators are pointing to both the Whanganui River in New Zealand and the Ganges River in India as examples. In early 2017, both rivers were granted legal personhood in their respective jurisdictions. In India, the Ganges’ status as a legal person came through a decision made by the Uttarakhand High Court and the Whanganui River was declared to be a legal person by New Zealand legislation following a lengthy consultation and settlement process involving the local iwi.

Both were significant, but can be distinguished from the Citizen Reef campaign in that the rivers received legal personhood, not citizenship. The idea of being a legal entity is different from being a citizen of a country. For example, a corporation is treated as a person by law, but this doesn’t mean a company that operates in Australian is an Australian citizen. Therefore, Citizen Reef seeks a different recognition to that seen in New Zealand and India.

Australian Citizenship Law

Citizenship law in Australia is governed primarily by the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth). Broadly, it provides that people become Australian citizens in three ways: 1) by operation of law; 2) by descent; and 3) by conferral. It is difficult to see the Reef being successful in receiving citizenship under any of these mechanisms, primarily because the Act is designed for granting citizenship to natural persons. While the term ‘person’ is not defined, it would be a stretch to argue that its natural ordinary meaning as it appears in the Act extends to a geographical area or natural landmark like the Reef. Even if this hurdle was cleared, it is difficult to conceive how, for example, the Minister could be satisfied that the Reef possesses a basic knowledge of the English language, or is of good character.

Citizenship for the Reef appears next to impossible under the current framework. However, it is likely that the Federal Legislature possesses the power to enact an entirely new law that would grant citizenship to the Reef, provided there is sufficient parliamentary support.

Citizenship and Rights

If the Reef were to be granted citizenship, it is questionable whether it would receive the rights and protections that Citizen Reef seeks. While Australian citizenship does confer certain rights, like the ability to apply for an Australian passport, or stand for Parliament, the Reef wouldn’t automatically receive the right to life, or freedom from torture by virtue of being a citizen.

Australia doesn’t have a bill of rights, so many of these basic protections or human rights only form part of Australian law due to international treaties or conventions.


Citizen Reef appears to be more of an exercise to raise awareness for the Reef’s plight, than a genuine attempt to gain citizenship. Firstly, it is important to recognise the difference between personhood and citizenship – citizenship traditionally being limited to natural persons. Secondly, even if citizenship was conferred on the Reef, it doesn’t automatically follow that it would benefit from basic human rights.

While the idea of citizenship might be a stretch, a declaration that the Reef is a legal person, like the Whanganui River, is a more realistic goal. While this wouldn’t allow it to benefit directly from what are considered human rights, there is no doubt that being considered a person in the eyes of the law would give the Reef greater legal protection.       

How do I change my solicitor?

How do I change my solicitor?

Private Law

When faced with a legal problem, it is important you feel that your concerns are being heard and you are receiving the best possible representation. If you are unhappy with your current solicitor, you may consider seeking advice or representation from an alternative law firm.

Reasons for changing

There are a number of reasons why you might wish to consider changing solicitors:

  • You believe that your solicitor has been dishonest or misleading;
  • You feel that you have been overcharged;
  • Your solicitor has ignored or acted contrary to your instructions;
  • You believe that your solicitor may have acted unethically or breached the Solicitors Rules.
  • You feel that your solicitor has been unresponsive, or has not given you quality advice.

While any of the above are valid reasons for wanting to change solicitors, a decision to switch is extremely important and should not be undertaken lightly.

The transfer process

Although it is a big decision to change your legal representative, the process is simple.

  • You should do your own research on a law firm before you approach a new solicitor. It is important that you ensure that they will provide better service in the areas that you believe your current solicitor is lacking.
  • Approach your new solicitor and tell them that you currently have legal representation, but are unhappy and considering a change. This is a good opportunity to determine whether your potential new solicitor is personable and to explain why you are unhappy with your current solicitor. It is possible that your desired new solicitor may advise that you would best served remaining with your current solicitor.
  • After speaking with your new solicitor, if you still wish to change, you need to notify your current solicitor that you want them to cease acting for you. Your new solicitor can draft a letter informing your current solicitor on your behalf.
  • Your new solicitor will ask you to sign a costs agreement and send a letter and an ‘uplift authority’, signed by you, to your old solicitor requesting that they release your file.
  • If you still have outstanding legal fees owing to your old solicitor, they have a right to retain possession of your file. If you are not in the position to pay those costs, your new solicitor can draft an agreement which secures your old solicitor’s payment at the conclusion of the proceedings in exchange for the release of your file.

Changing solicitors is relatively easy, but it is still a big decision. Being unhappy with what your solicitor has told you, is not itself a good reason for changing lawyers. Remember that a good solicitor will always give forthright and honest advice, even if it is not what a client wants to hear. If you are interested in changing solicitors and believe that we can help, please enquiry here and we would be happy to arrange a meeting or teleconference.

Free assessment

Would you like a confidential, free, and obligation free assessment by a senior lawyer of your matter? Simply complete the form below: