Showdown in the Australian Outback: ATO vs. PHR

written by A. L. Hart Havens on February 15, 2021

Following the publication of the Liberated Services article on enhanced driver’s licenses featured in the most recent issue of this newsletter, we received several questions from subscribers wishing to discover low‑cost alternative options that could potentially be useful in supplementing a sound international diversification strategy.

In response to these inquiries, this essay will cover the topic of micronations and in doing so will shed light on the remarkable story of the Principality of Hutt River, a Texas‑shaped self‑proclaimed sovereign nation deeply entrenched in the Australian Outback that became embroiled in a 50‑year bitter independence struggle against the Australian government and tax authorities.

What is a Micronation?

The 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, which today still remains a pillar of customary international law, established four general criteria that must be satisfied before a political entity can be eligible to qualify for statehood. These criteria are (A.) a permanent population, (B.) a defined territory, (C.) a government, and (D.) the capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Although various definitions can be applied, a micronation is typically understood as a political entity which proclaims itself as an independent and sovereign nation but is not internationally recognized as meeting the aforementioned criteria. There are hundreds of micronations across the world, many of which have their own constitutions, laws, and flags and issue their own currencies and passports.

Micronations should not be confused with microstates, which are internationally recognized UN‑member countries with very small territories and populations like Liechtenstein, Andorra, and Monaco.

The idea of obtaining international travel documents outside of the framework of passports issued by UN‑member‑state governments has been popularized in offshore and libertarian circles with the advent and growth of the Free Republic of Liberland, which arguably constitutes the most admirable, pursuit‑worthy, and legitimate effort in recent history by a micronation to achieve statehood (and will hopefully succeed in doing so in the near future).

Publicity Stunts and Political Statements

Before examining the half century of intrigue surrounding the Principality of Hutt River, this section will first provide a brief overview of the most common types of micronations that exist and show that the overwhelming majority of them do not seriously strive to become independent and sovereign countries.

Micronations are often effectively little more than publicity stunts aimed at promoting tourism to a specific town, restaurant, or other business venue, and these are typically accompanied by physical or online gift shops peddling merchandise such as stamps, t-shirts, coffee mugs, and other souvenirs, as well as passports and citizenship certificates. Notable examples of overt tourist traps include the Naminara Republic and the Hajduk Republic.

There are also micronations which are founded for the sole purpose of making elaborate political statements. This is fairly evident in the case of the self-proclaimed independent nation of the Trash Isles, which stakes a claim to a giant plastic garbage patch floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It is certainly questionable whether an accumulation of plastic bottles qualifies as a defined territory, but that hasn’t stopped Trash Isles spokesman and first citizen Al Gore and other self‑righteous celebrities from promoting this endeavor as a community of concerned environmentalists with nationhood aspirations.

Other examples of micronations created primarily as an expression of political protest or as a thought experiment include the Glacier Republic, Neue Slowenische Kunst, and the Gay and Lesbian Kingdom of the Coral Sea Islands.

Furthermore, some micronations are launched merely as a means of artistic expression and/or in pursuit of a goofy hobby or retirement pastime. There are countless of examples of such farcical undertakings including Ladonia, Zaqistan, the Republic of Molossia, and the Dominion of British West Florida.

It is certainly not difficult to understand why the concept of a micronation is generally ridiculed and scoffed at, and the aforementioned examples are indeed hardly worthy of any serious attention within the context of creating sound offshore strategies. In spite of this unflattering reputation, however, there are a handful of micronations that do in fact genuinely strive for nationhood as their primary objective.

The Principality of Hutt River

The Principality of Hutt River, originally known as the Hutt River Province, undoubtedly ranks among the micronations that have been the most deserving of consideration as a legitimately independent and sovereign country.

Featuring a permanent population of 30 residents and thousands of overseas citizens, the Hutt River Province covered an area of 30 square miles (75 square kilometers) of landlocked farmland located 350 miles (550 kilometers) north of Perth in the far‑western reaches of the Australian Outback.

In the wake of a longstanding dispute with the Australian government over burdensome wheat production quotas, the Australian farmer Leonard Casley in 1970 proclaimed the Hutt River Province as an independent sovereign country within the British Commonwealth, asserting that the newborn nation’s residents were no longer subject to Australian tax laws.

Casley, the micronation’s founder and head of state, soon became entangled in a slew of endless court battles with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and even declared war on Australia in 1977. The legal disputes primarily centered around the Province’s brazen refusal to pay Australian taxes. Casley also managed to remove Hutt River Province residents from the Australian voter registry in spite of the country’s strictly enforced mandatory‑voting law.

Much to the ire of the Australian government, the Hutt River Province began accepting international company registrations in 2004 in a move that would enable it to operate as an offshore tax haven. This coincided with plans to sell banking licenses to overseas bankers as well as gambling licenses to online casinos and sportsbooks wishing to base their operations in a largely unregulated jurisdiction. Casley also announced an ambitious proposal to build an international airport, a resort hotel, and a casino, although these projects never materialized due to an inability to secure the necessary funding.

Casley changed the micronation’s name to the Principality of Hutt River in 2006, at which point he inherited the title of Prince Leonard.

In addition to wheat farming, the Principality generated revenue from tourism, the export of agricultural produce and wildflowers, and the sale of PHR coins and passports. It issued standard passports to its citizenry of approximately 15,000 as well as diplomatic passports to PHR government officials.

Casley’s decades‑long quest to establish foreign relations and secure international recognition of the PHR passport ultimately proved unsuccessful despite a network of 65 PHR consular offices operating in foreign countries at its peak. This failure was primarily attributable to the Australian government’s persistent and unrelenting sabotage efforts via an aggressive exchange of diplomatic cables discouraging foreign governments from recognizing the Principality in any capacity.

In spite of a lack of official recognition, however, international travel on a PHR passport nonetheless proved to be possible (albeit certainly not guaranteed), as it was occasionally accepted by foreign countries on an ad‑hoc basis with prominent cases of port‑of‑entry admission occurring in France and Portugal.

In 2017, at the age of 91 and after a reign of 47 years, Leonard Casley retired as the head of state and transferred power to his son Graeme. However, the story of the Principality of Hutt River came to an abrupt end shortly thereafter with Leonard Casley dying in 2019 and the Principality dissolving in August of 2020 due to the financial distress caused by Australia’s coronavirus travel restrictions, which had brought about a steep decline in much‑needed tourism.

The Principality’s land and assets were subsequently put up for sale with the proceeds earmarked to pay off an outstanding seven‑figure debt to the Australian Taxation Office. After an incredible 50‑year run, the Principality of Hutt River is no more.

The Value of Micronation Citizenship

Although the Australian government ultimately prevailed in this protracted struggle, it took a draconian lockdown to bring the Principality of Hutt River to its knees. And despite this disappointing ending, it should be emphasized that the Principality of Hutt River was more than just a thorn in the side of the Australian Taxation Office. In stark contrast to the overwhelming majority of micronations, it was a real‑life undertaking carried out on a sizeable piece of territory with full‑time residents and its own functioning government, economy, post office, chapel, and way of life.

A reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from this eventful saga is that a micronation is indeed capable of offering some degree of protection and convenience for people seeking freedom and prosperity by way of international diversification. After all, the Principality succeeded in steadfastly defying the Australian government’s oppressive wheat production quotas and taxation efforts for over 50 years!

With this in mind and in view of the themes addressed in this essay, it would of course be advisable to focus exclusively on micronations that allow people of all nationalities to freely acquire citizenship. This is because many of the world’s secessionist movements would likely be very restrictive in granting citizenship to people whom they deem to be foreigners (such as Catalonia, Scotland, Somaliland, Western Sahara, etc.).

Finally, in addition to the handful of micronations from which a person could potentially derive some benefit by obtaining citizenship and a passport, there are several private organizations that do not seek statehood but nonetheless issue passports which enjoy a certain degree of international recognition. These passports can serve as a valuable resource and emergency backup option particularly for people who hold only a single citizenship.