Ausflag and FECCA Call on Constitutional Convention to Ensure a Non-Discriminatory Vote for the Republic and the Flag

MEDIA RELEASE: Friday 6 February 1998

The Executive Director of Ausflag, Mr Harold Scruby, today wrote to all delegates of the 1988 Constitutional Convention, asking that they ensure that the Electoral Act is amended so that it is no longer discriminatory.

Mr Scruby said: "We have an electoral system in this country which discriminates against a large number of permanent residents, denying them the right to vote, while giving between 300,000 and 500,000 British Subjects the right to vote. Even South Africa no longer discriminates against any group in their electoral system. This is a deplorable anomaly which must be rectified before we have any vote for a republic or a new flag"

Mr Scruby added: "FECCA (The Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia) strongly supports Ausflag's campaign for an urgent resolution of this most important issue."


Dear Delegate,

The Republic, the Australian Flag and a Non-Discriminatory Voting System

While some believe that the Republic and the Australian Flag are inextricably linked, we feel sure you understand that they are separate issues. It is for this reason that Ausflag did not stand any candidates in the recent Constitutional Convention elections, in the hope that delegates would not be distracted and could concentrate on the Constitution and the terms of reference of the Convention.

Some of our material is enclosed for your information. The colour pamphlet entitled The Commonwealth of Nations graphically illustrates why they are separate issues; Canada and New Guinea, both monarchies with their own flags, are prime examples.

What has been so remarkable about this Constitutional Convention is that there has been a genuine attempt to include representatives of all Australians in order to arrive at this most important decision.

In stark contrast, the Convention which framed the present Constitution was notable for whom it excluded; in particular women and Aborigines. It was dominated by Anglo-Celtic males who made provision within the Constitution specifically excluding indigenous people from voting and enjoying other basic human rights.

How important it is then, that when we frame our new Constitution, we avoid any form of exclusion and make a concerted effort to include the entire Australian community in that decision. We recognise now how unfair and discriminatory it was to exclude the original inhabitants of Australia from the right to vote; the most important right in a democracy.

It therefore may be surprising to many delegates to know that between 300,000 and 500,000 permanent residents who have not become Australian citizens, can vote in all Australian elections and referenda, because they are British subjects.

This is in spite of a long and concerted effort on behalf of the Government inviting and encouraging them to become Australians. However, the same rights do not exist for all other permanent residents (e.g. from Europe, the Middle East and Asia), who have made Australia their home.

If all persons, other than Australian citizens were excluded from voting, no-one would question the fairness of such a law. No-one argues against a minimum age requirement which is not discriminatory because it applies to everyone and is not based on nationality, race, religion, colour or sex.

It should not be forgotten how few referenda since Federation have been successful. It may be coincidental, but in the recent Constitutional Convention elections, South Australia recorded the greatest vote against the Republic. South Australia also has the greatest proportional number of voters who are non-citizens.

To avoid the possibility of ignoring and repeating the mistakes of the past and again permitting a discriminatory voting system, we have a clear choice. Either all permanent residents must be included in the voting system, or only Australian citizens.

If the latter option were adopted, some would argue that the voting rights of British subjects could not be withdrawn because to do so would require retrospective legislation which would take away previously granted voting rights. This is nonsense. There is no question of retrospectively declaring past voting rights invalid. It is simply a matter of passing legislation that states henceforth, that is, in the future, only Australian citizens should vote.

It is likely, as with the National Anthem, that a plebiscite will be held before we change our flag. Hence our concerns about ensuring the voting system is fair and non-discriminatory.

We ask that you consider this issue very seriously. If it came to pass that Australia narrowly missed becoming a Republic or hoisting its own flag, because of an unfair and discriminatory voting system, most Australians would surely be wishing that this deplorable anomaly had been properly and fully considered at the Constitutional Convention.

Yours sincerely

(signed)

Harold Scruby
Executive Director

P.S. While you are in Old Parliament House, you should take the time to view the painting by Septimus Power of the opening of Parliament House in 1927. Lots of Red Ensigns and Union Jacks, but not one Australian flag, as we now know it. These are the flags under which Australians fought and died before 1954. Their valiant efforts have diminished not one iota simply because Australian servicemen and women now serve under a different flag, as they will not diminish one iota when we hoist a truly Australian flag: our own flag.