Aussie Brits put republic at risk

The Australian, 1 September 1999, p.12.

By national affairs editor Mike Steketee

British citizens voting in the November referendum could sink Australia′s prospects of becoming a republic.

The irony of Britons determining whether or not Australia replaces the Queen with a president stems from the right of people who migrated from Britain before 1984 to vote in Australian elections and referendums without becoming Australian citizens.

Harold Scruby, Ausflag executive director, estimates there are about 300,000 people in this category. There is no direct evidence on how they will vote in the referendum, but he said yesterday they had ignored numerous government appeals to take out citizenship.

"You don′t have to be Einstein to feel these people have a greater loyalty to Britain than to Australia," he said.

Election analyst Antony Green calculates that 14.8 per cent of people in Western Australia aged over 15 were born in Britain and 11.4 per cent of those in South Australia, compared to an Australia-wide figure of 7.5 per cent. These include those who have become Australians and those who have arrived since 1984.

But his figures also show the two States have high proportions of older British-born people more likely to have been in Australia for a long period. Opinion polling suggests the contest between republicans and monarchists is close in both South Australia and Western Australia. One of them could be pivotal in a referendum that requires a majority in four of the six States, as well as a national majority to be successful.

Mr Scruby wants to mount a High Court challenge on the issue on the grounds that voting by non-citizens could be a breach of electoral laws. He said legal advice on the prospects of a win in the High Court was mixed and proceeding with the case would depend on adequate funding.

Ausflag is setting up a trust fund to cover costs that could reach $100,000. The money would be returned to donors if costs were determined in Ausflag′s favour.

Mr Scruby said Australians felt strongly that non-citizens should not get a vote, yet successive governments had refused to change the law. He is campaigning for a change because the same group of Britons would be able to vote in any future plebiscite on a new Australian flag.