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Yet the principality is not without certain legal nuances. A placard in Nain, its capital, proudly notes that Casley is a “non-resident of Australia” for income tax purposes. All of Hutt River’s resident subjects have likewise received these notices. Citizens of Hutt River pay taxes on income earned there, but only to Hutt River’s Tax Department—not to Australia.
In 1980 a Perth court ruled that, at least within Hutt River, its currency and postage stamps are valid and legal. Australia resumed delivering mail to the principality shortly thereafter. Hutt River also issues license tags for cars, and even its own passports, though their international recognition is limited. And since September 2004, Hutt River has accepted foreign company registrations, though their status on Hong Kong’s registry of places to incorporate is now under review following an outcry in the Australian media.
The prospects of becoming an Australian tax haven are tantalizing. According to Hutt River’s official history, “Prince Leonard…would doubtless wish to see his country benefiting from a status equivalent to Monaco or the Bahamas Islands.” Were Hutt River to flex its muscles and flaunt lower tax rates for international corporations, it would be all but certain to experience belligerent interference from the Australian government. Meanwhile, the principality is tentatively expanding into realms other than business incorporation. Hutt River is now a host to several online colleges, and Prince Leonard envisions Nain as home one day to a medical research center and its own university.
According to Casley’s Aide-de-Camp, Lord Steve Baikie, it is in the best interest of both Hutt River and Australia to formally recognize the principality’s de facto independence. “They’d make a huge amount of money by assisting us to develop rather than arguing against it,” Baikie says.
The yields from tourism are already apparent. While Hutt River’s early notoriety led to an estimated 60,000 visitors a year, almost all from within Australia, the curiosity-seekers now (at an estimated 30,000 per annum) are predominantly foreigners in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Prince Leonard has effectively created a tourist magnet in a part of Australia few Australians would ever visit, let alone Asians or Europeans. International recognition would enhance its appeal as a destination and potentially bring in more visitors to both countries.
Casley notes that there are investors lined up to incorporate in Hutt River, but the prince refrains from encouraging large-scale development, knowing that “waving red in front of the bull” could bring down the Australian government’s wrath. “We could have a Hong Kong here, or a Switzerland here,” he says, referring to potential investors. “Company after company want to do just that.”
The Price of Princedom
Hutt River’s independence has brought costs as well. Australia does not just withhold its acknowledgment from Hutt River, or the development such recognition would bring. It has deprived Prince Leonard of rights guaranteed to an Australian citizen even while staunchly maintaining that he never ceased being one. All social security benefits were withdrawn by the Australian Government from Hutt River’s resident subjects at the time of secession, as well as pensions receivable, educational allowances, and child endowments. Leonard’s wife, Princess Shirley, is not eligible to draw the medical benefits she is entitled to as the spouse of a war veteran. (Casley served in the Royal Air Force during World War II.)
In the past large amounts of letters en route to Hutt River have been confiscated and destroyed, without due process or judicial review—necessary legalities if Leonard Casley is indeed an Australian citizen.
The royal couple contend that they and the rest of Hutt River’s subjects have been removed from the Australian electoral roll. In recent elections Australian voters have received ID cards to take with them to the polling booths, but subjects of Hutt River have received no such documents. An odd development, given that in Australia voting is not just a right of citizens but an enforceable requirement.
Last year the Australian Tax Office wrote to Casley demanding tax payments and he responded with a meticulous legal document asserting his status as a foreign national and non-resident of Australia. Were Hutt River to again face legal action in an Australian court, Prince Leonard is confident his country would be vindicated as a sovereign state.
Independent of potential legal battles, agents of Hutt River are busy combing through recently declassified memoranda from the Australian government about the principality. According to Baikie, the contents indicate that Australia’s officials were much more concerned about Hutt River than they initially indicated. “We’re blown away by what we’re seeing in those archives.…Prime ministers and state premiers asking for Prince Leonard to be charged…a lot more opposed than we thought,” he says. Additional investigation may yield further grounds for international recognition.
Despite the irritating impediments and legal hurdles which Hutt River regularly faces, Leonard and his subjects are proud of all they have accomplished. Leonard’s son, Prince Ian, is ready to assume the crown when the time comes, and the prospect of investment and development loom on the horizon.
Hutt River is no Australian golden goose, à la China’s “special economic zones,” nor is it an explicit libertarian experiment, like the charter city movement or New Hampshire’s Free State Project. Yet it is much more than an eccentric’s flight of fancy. The project began as a righteous fight for survival against a foolhardy law, and stands as a rare recent example of a peaceful secession. Though it lacks international recognition, the principality has won key battles, carving out small but meaningful rights for itself from the behemoth country surrounding it. The onerous wheat quota which originally galvanized Leonard Casley into action is no longer in effect—perhaps due to the precocious efforts of its most prominent critic.
Prince Leonard can claim the distinction of reigning over his country longer than most presidents or prime ministers in modern history. He even sports a certain amusement about his country’s finances as compared to America’s: “I’m thinking our treasury is in a better way than your treasury, because our treasury doesn’t owe anything.”
Detractors contest the legitimacy of Hutt River and its sovereign; enthusiasts err towards infatuation with the heraldry and titles of nobility that have sprung from the homegrown monarchy. Leonard remains wry but clear minded. He points out that he never intended to become a prince, or to start his own country. He only meant to save his farm from ruinous wheat quotas. In that he has been entirely successful.