Having a Say on democracy – the right to vote should be for citizens only

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.

This post from The Poll Bludger provides a good general summary of some of the key issues, as does this item by Bernard Keane at Crikey.

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.

Robert Merkel at Larvatus Prodeo focuses especially on electronic and internet voting, which he thinks is a seriously bad idea.  Jacques Chester at Club Troppo strongly concurs.

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.

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  1. How then to you account for our ongoing obligations and bottomline responsibilities to our Sovereign Original peoples who never asked we whitefellas to this island continent and we betrayed via our legal fiction Founding Documents documenting democracy as we currently experience it? Our only Australian Democrats Parliamentarian has made an Oath or Affirmation to our Crown through the Queen of England so that allegiance to a Foreign Power under s44 of our Australian Constitution is also a serious consideration … is it not?

  2. A chook as Republican!? I actually find our Constitution somewhat in tatters where no employees,that is non judges find interesting question about Australian Governance and practice.[ the continuing story of legal Citizenship is again treated about Obama in the U.S.A. re http://www.Rense.com. and an interesting date around 1981 and Obama travel to Pakistan under what passport… seeing a U.S.A. ban was imposed then].I found the last Federal Election and the tiresome Electoral Commission attempt to get people to vote with their reasoning unbelievably stupid.I still have it posted on a wall to remind myself, of how some people get paid quite a few dollars and have safe cosy jobs bringing us the legally enforced parade of promise makers with appropriate costings,that then have a requirement in them for immigrants of certain skills.25 years is a long time to make up your mind you want an Australian passport as well.At this stage as an Australian born citizen,I cannot get the required ID together to say goodbye to these wonderful shores and all the really egalitarian democracy that goes on within them.So I dont ever take your point on this Andrew,save I think it is fair,but not on me!?

  3. Matthew

    Parliamentarians swear an Oath to the Queen of Australia. Britain is now seen legally as a foreign power (although only quite recently), but the Queen is the Head of State of more than two separate countries (I wish she wasn’t our Head of State, but that’s a separate matter).

    As for separate legal national sovereignty of Indigenous Australians, that argument has been put and failed before the legal system that operates under Australia’s Constitution. Personally, I’m in favour of a Treaty – although that doesn’t require separate sovereignty – but that’s another debate again.

  4. I’m married to somene who is one of the people “grandfathered” … the reason that was done is that when they came the laws were that we were all British subjects. Now we are not, and eventually all those covered by that provision will be dead. Why not honour the conditions prevailing when they came … they pay tax, were able to join the armed forces and fight in Vietnam, contribute in many ways to the community and add to our population with children. Why retrospectively change the law? Who is it hurting?

  5. Steady on Togret! We will have the ABC with its radio and telephone stuff back to Britain before your question is answered.But what about all the other nationalities,I say!? And poor Australians who had to pay through their noses on phone bills across the land!? Yes indeed, pounds shillings and pence,and measuring Imperially sounds like all the practice I have given to sounding like Sir Robert Menzies will come in handy after all.I can appeal to the hearts and minds in competition against Elvis Presley look-a-likes in the retirement village of your choice.Or would you prefer a unisex approach!?I did but see him passing by,I will love Togret until the day I die!

  6. Well, I agree with Andrew. I know lots of people from the UK who have lived here for a long time who have never become Australian citizens.

    I think they are thumbing their noses at us mere “colonials”.

    As for ANY people with dual citizenship, I see no reason why they should receive double the voting power of other Australians or citizens of any country.

    As for pensions, if you get an overseas pension, I think it should be deducted from the Australian pension. If the overseas pension is worth more than ours, a person should live on that, and not expect to get anything more.

  7. British Law has no problem with dual citizenship.

    Under UK law, a British citizen does NOT lose British citizenship by taking up the citizenship of another country.

    You lose British citizenship by formally renouncing it.

    This involves filling out the appropriate form [RN1], and sending a fee of $938.30 to the High Commission in Canberra.

    “Grandfathered” British citizens who are still on the electoral roll can become Australian citizens if they wish. It will cost them between $20 and $260, depending on age and pension status. They will retain their British citizenship. The citizenship of the children will also not be altered in any way.

    I quite agree that those British citizens have had plenty of time to become Australian – my sister is one of them.

  8. Your wrote:
    “Parliamentarians swear an Oath to the Queen of Australia.”

    That’s a sort of half-truth.

    The exact wording of the Schedule in the Constitution is:
    I, A.B. , do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Her heirs and successors according to law.


    I, A.B. , do solemnly and sincerely affirm and declare that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Her heirs and successors according to law.

    (NOTE: The name of the King or Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the time being is to be substituted from time to time. )

    And for A.B. insert Andrew Bartlett!!

    Queen of Australia is a title used by the Queen of the UK and NI in Australia.

    Whatever title is used, the monarch = monarch of the UK. Whoever is next monarch of the UK, according to law, will be the Queen/King of Australia – plus Queen/King of Canada, Queen/King of NZ, and all the other inseparable titles which come with the job.

  9. That’s true Redmond – all of which highlights again how silly it is for Australia to still be a Monarchy, but that’s still the way it is.

    In any case, it is still inaccurate to say parliamentarians swear allegiance to a foreign power.

    By the way, I am not ‘Brit bashing’ (which I have sometimes been accused when I’ve raised this issue, although I know no one has that here). This exemption/loophole applies to all British Subjects who were enrolled to vote in 1984. “British Subjects” is much wider than just British citizens – it would include New Zealanders, Canada, any Pacific Island nations and people from other Commonwealth countries – although the majority of this group of people are British.

    In response to Togret’s comment, changing this wouldn’t be retrospective – particularly as every single person afftected would be eligible to apply for Australian citizenship, and thus retain their right to vote. The change could be made with a lead in time of a year or two to give people plenty of notice – the Electoral Commission knows who all these people are and could notify them all personally of any planned change.

    As for your question about “who is it hurting?” to retain the current arrangements, in one sense you are right – no one is being severely harmed by the current arrangement. But I think there is a matter of principle which applies here – one group of permanent residents have the vote, while other permanent residents (including some who may have lived here just as long) do not get it. I suppose this could be fixed by extending the right to vote to all permanent residents (an option canvassed in the Green Paper, and which is premitted in some countires, including the UK) – you could easily say this ‘wouldn’t hurt’ anyone either, but I think it undermines one of the core values of modern citizenship to allow non-citizens to vote, (especially when it only some have that right, depending on which country they came from)

  10. I personally think voting often more than not hurts people Andrew,which cannot be extracted from the argument of what is a citizen!?Today visiting the Sydney Morning Herald web site,and some news on the ABC radio about rentals going up in the State of N.S.W. for aged pensioner groupings is like a steady blow against, anything the Green Paper has to say,or the Electoral Commission who are the sinners.The two commentaries I am referring to are the approach to taking away the rights of the newly unemployed and the claim of welfare dependency{or in the same breath the low skilled employed under employed never employed but working} coming up for a swim in the marathon swim of theme park economics.The other is Rudd’s lack of saying much how he has increased the numbers of newly arrived.And a smart arse word usage in the ‘tapering off ‘of those becoming unemployed.Only wankers with some supreme sets of thought could not see how these matters intertwine.And these wankers,are without doubt,the same wankers,who don’t ever recognise matters of statistics other than their own over-publicised endeavours of failed intelligence,to prove they are then worthy of being the illustrious ones of opinion setting.English usage,econometrics and without doubt wanting everyone else to solve the problem they see ,by the usual tighten the belt scenario.Perhaps Economists should be banned from citizen in any form.Time for a change of government,by maybe not having one,except voluntary unpaid.

  11. Andrew:

    Yes, it does sound discriminatory.

    But I think I would like to keep the Monarchy. It helps to maintain our ties with the Commonwealth of Nations, and hopefully the UK would still help us out in times of war.

  12. When talking about voting rights for permanent residents, there is everywhere the talk about the voting rights of British, however, what about voting rights for those whose dependent child is an Australian citizen, however, as a mother or father, not eligible for citizenship yet (and theoretically, it is possible that he/she is not even permanent resident yet!) so, has no influence upon the future of the child and represent its interests, even if the child is as much an Australian citizen as any other children from non-mixed marriages, however, only one or none of the parents can represent such a family unit? When one of the parents is a citizen, who got married to someone from another country, and they live in Australia, have child(ren) together, the children will be citizens. It takes at least 2 years for the ‘foreigner” even to get permanent residency, and 4 years for citizenship. 4 years is enough to have 1 or 2 children together. Still, the family will be eligible for limited support, and limited rights, in comparison to a full-australian family.

  13. Mariann:

    I had a friend who came here from South Africa with an Australian man whom she later married. She brought with her a child from a previous relationship, and also her child from the relationship with the Australian man.

    I thought she and her older child obtained citizenship after 2 years.

  14. Under changes made near the end of the Howard government, people now need to live in Australia for four years before they can become a citizen, with at least the last twelve months being as a permanent resident.

    The British subject who still have the right to vote in Australia without being citizens have all been living here for at least 25 years.

  15. I’m glad I’ve convinced you on electronic voting :)

    I agree with you entirely on the British anomaly, and would not support the New Zealand solution of letting all permanent residents vote either.

    As for the monarchy, or our special ties with the UK, they are not at issue here.

  16. Robert:

    I think it is best if everything is looked at on an interactive basis, whether it is citizenship, pension, monarchy or anything else applicable.

    Governments make a lot of mistakes because they sometimes don’t look at things from a broad enough perspective.

    For example, Howard sent sole parents out to work under Welfare to Work legislation. Now we have both state and federal governments trying to penalise those parents when their children do not turn up to school, WorkLinks etc.


    Why do you think they changed citizenship rights to 4 years?

    The lady I knew from South Africa divorced the man as soon as she got her citizenship. At the divorce hearing, I found out they had only been married for 18 months.

    Then when the police came to her and said he was missing, she didn’t even care if he was dead. End of friendship!

    Then I tracked the man down myself and made sure he was okay.

    I’m not saying this is the case with everyone, but I know it happens.

  17. Whilst not entirely on track with the subject matter here,I rejoice ,almost that the Democrats are looking for Candidates at the next Federal election.If I wasn’t so hard nosed about the Electoral Commission and ran into an inheritance or something I would put myself forward.For the physical exercise,keeping the nasal hair of my nose clipped as a boomer and mascara on the ear-hair to start a trend,rather than a ring.Get my email working on the computer,and all that related stuff.Make sure my mobile phone worked and didn’t send me to the surgeon with brain tumour,and percolated all the day through.I would need an inheritance to prove I was Australian,and no doubt my bank account would feel a bit more exercised.I sort of laughed at the mugging by magazine that the S.A. Premier got,not because, I would do anything like that,or receive such treatment.But Dean Drench or whatever his name was proclaiming there will be more security and loss of getting close to sitting members because of this.Well ! The Premier could always carry with him a stiff magazine,himself,which has proven to be a worthy truncheon! Gee!I am not a member of the ‘crats! More practical Alzhiemers research ,I say!?

  18. philip travers

    Philip says: Whilst not entirely on track with the subject matter here,I rejoice ,almost that the Democrats are looking for Candidates at the next Federal election

    No way…. The DLP are the up and coming. Which area area you in ?


  19. Pardon me for being suspicious, but how do we know that the SA Premier didn’t deliberately organise himself a couple of good clouts with a magazine to gain public sympathy?

    Now here’s a serious problem for you, Tony. A lot of people think the DLP are the Australian Democrats.

    Some people have never even heard of Malcolm Turnbull, let alone which party he belongs to, despite huge publicity recently over the ETS.

  20. Lorikeet: I understand what you mean and actually agree with NOT to give citizenship after 2 years yet, because of the possibility of sham marriages, etc.However, it is the task of DIAC to prevent those with dishonest intentions to enter the country at all. Most people do not even know that marriage alone would not let you enter Australia, not without getting through a lenghty process, and if the relationship breaks down within 2 years, or signs of fake marriage are found, the partner will be sent home. And who says that foreign spouses come only from less developed countries?There are some all around from the USA, Germany, Canada, etc. as well.
    However my point above was not this, but, children whose parent, whichever, is an Australian citizen, lets say, by birth, then the child will become a citizen by birth, too. But even if the parents live peacefully and happily together, one of them cannot vote. If, say, the Australian half leaves the family, (and how many divorces are even within purely Australian families nowadays?) despite the initial “good intentions”, and the one from foreign country has the custody of the child, because the Australian one was not found to be suitable for his/her upbringing,or does not care, then the child is still an Australian citizen, but who will “represent” this at the elections? Even if they are living here?

  21. if you are or become an australian citizen dont hold duel citizenship and live in australia not overseas then you should have the right to vote if not bad luck .
    what sort of fool would contemplate anything elce.
    i dont think that there are any gray areas in it at all.

  22. Well, I think the problem of having to wait 4 years for citizenship has raised some really serious concerns.

    I saw Nicola Roxon (Minister for Health & Ageing) on “The Insiders” program a few weeks ago.

    Under Industrial Relations streamlining, she said she could give a guarantee that EXISTING aged care workers would not lose income. This led me to believe that the wages of new employees will go down.

    The aged care centre where my mother resides is now almost fully staffed by Asian nurses. The pay is very low.

    How are they supposed to defend themselves against government assaults on their pay and working conditions if they can’t get citizenship for 4 years?

    Most don’t have a clue about unions or government processes.

  23. Well, I think the problem of having to wait 4 years for citizenship has raised some really serious concerns.
    so i had to wait for 21 years.
    and as far as i know i cant become a citizen of quit a few other countrys no mater how long i have lived there so whats the problem.

    mabe you think that they should give out citizenship free to anyone who steps off a plan or boat onto this country.

  24. Red Crab:

    I think it is essential that all workers’ rights are protected. Some of the people I”m talking about have come here legitimately on visas. I would need to ask the others, but most have not been here long, and came to fill a gap in the workforce.

  25. Robert Merkel = Oct 2nd. I’m not in favour of electronic voting. Watch ‘How Bush Won Florida’ and how they had to change many systems after the 2000 election. There’s too many incidents of people being able to hack into computers etc. Someone hacked into Kevin Rudd’s not long ago. No thanks to this form of voting. Too much room for sabotage! It’s quite efficent the way it is, and there are lots of safeguards.

  26. i agree with naomi
    if some pimple faced kid can hack into millitary secrets then just how easy would it be to rigg an election

    just what do you mean when you say Some of the people I”m talking about have come here legitimately on visas.

    do you mean that the ones who are here that are not legitimate are not getting a fare deal????

  27. Red Crab:

    No, you said that, not me.

    Some are here on visas. The rest of them are probably migrants. Since they are so flat out, and there is a degree of communication breakdown at times, we don’t have time to nitpick over it.

  28. It seems to me to be one of those non-issues that ultimately doesn’t make any difference to anybody except those directly effected. I say let them lose their vote as they die off.

  29. Interesting situation. My family arrived from the UK in 1985, and my dad, brother and I have got citizenship in recent years. What’s missing from this debate sometimes is what is actually involved in becoming a citizen, it’s not an automatic process like some seem to assume. (None of us were under the grandfathered provisions so we couldn’t vote until we became citizens.)

    I wanted to get it long before I did but couldn’t find an appropriately qualified witness to sign for me. The person I finally found to do so qualified on a technicality, and I only found out about that by accident. Once I did, though, my long-stalled application was in just 2 weeks later.

    My mum, who wants to become a citizen, is disabled, can’t easily get the photos taken that are needed to be submitted, and certainly couldn’t get herself into the city for an interview with DIMA staff. She’s terrified of failing the test because of all the media hype (I’ve tried my best to calm her down about it), and the amount she has to pay out is about twice what I did, and about 4 times what it cost in 1996.

    I think the laws regarding citizenship need reform – preferably looking at whether all Howard’s meddling with them from 1996 to 2006 was actually necessary and whether some of it couldn’t be undone.

  30. You should have to become an Australian citizen in order to vote in Australia. Australians have the right to vote both in UK elections and New Zealand elections if they are resident in those countries, they don’t; have to become citizens – this should be reciprocal.

  31. I came to Australia from the UK as a 2 year old with my parents in 1964. I had thought I had dual nationality but recently found out I did not (I applied for an Aussie passport and was rejected) I have been working and paying taxes since 1979 and I cannot believe that I now have to pay nearly $300 to the government to become a citizen :/.

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