What’s the closest country to Australia?

Up until about a month ago I would have answered Papua New Guinea and been proud of myself for not saying New Zealand. But up until a month ago I hadn’t met William Pitt.

I know this blog is about things I learnt in the media from week to week and technically I met Pitt face-to-face so he shouldn’t qualify. BUT I was interviewing him on my radio show, which counts as “the media” even though I’m a part of it. And I did my research for the segment online. Besides, the story is so damn good I can’t resist.

And, I make the damn rules.

William Pitt is the author of the book “An Australian Monarch” which chronicles the succession of the Principality of Hutt River (formerly known as Hutt River Province).

That’s right, I said succession. As in declare yourself an independent nation.

So, as it turns out the closest country to Australia is the micronation of Hutt River, sitting 517 km north of Perth, near the town of Northampton.

It was established back in April 21, 1970, by Leonard George Casley. Who rightfully enough is now known as “His Royal Highness Prince Leonard I”.

The monarch started out as a regular wheat farmer and the principality as a wheat farm. Everything was going along well until the WA government decided to level wheat production quotas. Since Casley had about 9,900 acres of wheat ready to harvest and the quota imposed by the government only allowed him to sell 99 acres of it Casley was a little upset. He lodged a complaint with then Governor of Western Australia Sir Douglas Kendrew who I can only assume thought he was a dumb farmer and, in a fashion familiar to anyone that has ever dealt with a bureaucracy, pretty much told him to stick it.

It’s at this point Casley showed the first glimmerings that he wasn’t going to respond to being pushed around like your ordinary man. He sued the Queen.

He decided the quota was unlawful and took out a case for $52 million under the Law of Tort based on the actions of the governor (the Queen’s representative). The commonwealth decided to hit back with the resumption /compulsory acquisition of his lands under section 51(xxxi) of the Australian Constitution.

I think if faced with the prospect of being kicked off your land by the AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT most people would try desperately to cut a deal. I am guessing a lot of pleading and offering to abide by the wheat quota would be standard fare followed by offering to pay some sort of fine.

Not Leonard George Casley. He declared the Australian government was in violation of the British Treason Act of 1495 and declared Hutt River Provence’s independence.

Who's the dumb farmer now?

When the government threatened to prosecute him Casley declared himself a monarch. According to a legal loophole the government had two years to respond to his claim and when they hadn’t in April 21, 1972 the province became de facto legal.

Thus using the government's own lethargic pace against them.

When I tell most people this story the first thing they ask is “But do they pay taxes?” To which the answer is, astonishingly, no. Obviously not learning the lesson of previous departments, the ATO did repeatedly demand taxes from Prince Leonard. The only thing this got them was a declaration of war on December 2, 1977.

Yes. He declared war on Australia.

The war lasted several days. The Doomsday Clock found its way to one minute to midnight and back before Prince Leonard finally announced an end to hostilities. And he doesn’t pay tax. For the governments purposes Hutt River citizens have not been considered Australian residents ever since.

The Australian government still doesn’t recognise Hutt River as a sovereign nation. Officially they say it is a private enterprise operating under a business name. A more accurate description would be “go away we don’t want to talk or think about it”. And every loophole Prince Leonard took advantage of has been sown up quite tight.

Yes, quite.

But lets take stock:

Wheat quotas - Casley defied the government and sold his wheat.

Forced acquisition of land - Casley, now Prince Leonard still owns all 75km of his land.

Payment of taxes – Hutt river pay no taxes.

Sorry Australian government. You’ve taken quite good care of me and I’ve never had much cause for complaint. But there’s a word for that.

Some fun Principality of Hutt River facts:

Location: 28°4′28″S114°28′14.5″E

Size: 75 square kilometres

Founded: April 21, 1970

Leader: Prince Leonard I

Language: English, French, Esparanto

Population: 20 native. 13,000 global residents (more on this later)

Capital: Nain

Currency: Hutt River Dollar

In Leonard we trust.

What I learned from the media this week:

1. The existence of another, albeit very small country right in the middle of Australia.

2. You can actually stand up to the government and win (or you could back in 1970).

3. You can apply for citizenship to Hutt River. And, yes, I have. I downloaded, printed and sent the forms off today.

Soon I will have one of these of my very own.

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