Right to vote

The Sydney Morning Herald, 11 September 1997, p.14.


It is hard to disagree with the argument made by the chairman of the Australian Republican Movement, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, over who should be eligible to vote for delegates to next year′s Constitutional Convention. "If somebody thinks so little about Australia, that being entitled to become a citizen, they have chosen not to be one, then you would have to ask how they could in good conscience vote for this Constitutional Convention," he said. Mr Turnbull was referring to certain British subjects, estimated to number between 300,000 and 500,000, who have not taken out Australian citizenship and whose eligibility to vote in the postal ballot for convention delegates is to be challenged in the High Court.

Of course, it could be argued that it is in the interests of organisations such as the ARM and Ausflag, which are also involved in the legal challenge, to remove the loophole which permits some British subjects who have not taken out Australian citizenship to vote but prevents non-British subjects who have also not become citizens doing likewise. There is a presumption (possibly a dubious one) that British non-citizens are less likely to support a republic or a new flag. But this is not the point. The issue is whether the right to make decisions about Australia′s future - including, of course, the most vital decision of electing a government - should be reserved only for those who have made a definite commitment to the country by becoming citizens. The right to vote is a basic right of citizenship and should not be debased by being available to non-citizens.

There has been opposition to moves to change the Electoral Act to remove this loophole - which only affects those British migrants who came to Australia between 1949 and 1984 and are still non-citizens - because it would remove a right previously granted by legislation. But this argument would only be valid if the votes which these non-citizens had cast in previous elections were declared invalid. This is obviously not the case. The Federal Government should not await developments in the High Court. The Australian Parliament has the right to legislate to put these British subjects in the same position as non-British subjects. The legislation should therefore provide that, from a certain date, only Australian citizens would be entitled to vote in elections, referendums and plebiscites. This should include the election of delegates to the Constitutional Convention.