The federal government should be commended for making such a comprehensive effort at casing so many perspectives in it consideration of electoral reform options, as well as for providing an apparently genuine effort at seeking public opinion. The second electoral reform Green Paper released this week by Special Minister of State Joe Ludwig covers a wide terrain, canvassing many options without actually promoting any.
There’s something in it for everyone interested in democracy, and I’d encourage people to make use of the opportunity to make a response, even if it’s only on one or two of the many aspects covered in the paper.
I’m inclined to back them on that, except in very limited circumstances, not least because our current system works very well, partly when it comes to verifying the validity of votes. For all the conspiracy theories, there has been minimal proof of any serous efforts at fraudulent voting in Australia, not least because it is something which currently would be very hard to do without it being detected.
One area I’ve long been interested in and concerned by is the huge number of people who are not Australian citizens, but who are still entitled to vote because they are British subjects who were resident in Australia in 1984 – having their right to vote ‘grandfathered’ when the law was changed at that time to confine voting rights to Australian citizens.
According to paragraph 4.30 of the Green Paper, the Australian Electoral Commission states that as at the end of May 2009, there were 157 102 non-citizens still entitled to vote due to this grandfathering provision.
Since 1984, there have been major changes to our citizenship laws, making dual citizenship the norm. People no longer automatically lose citizenship of their country of origin when they take out Australian citizenship, unless it is as a result of the laws of their other country. British law does not have such provisions.
The right to vote is one of the few differentiators between most permanent residents and Australian citizens – along with getting called up for jury duty and eligibility for some public sector jobs.
I think 25 years is long enough for people to decide whether or not they want to take out Australian citizenship. If they want to continue to have the right to vote, it is time they were required to take out citizenship like everyone else. They will of course, retain their right to permanent residency, as hundreds of thousands of other non-citizens living in Australia without voting rights currently do.