Non-citizens should not have the right to vote

Originally published as a Letter to the Editor in The Australian 29 July 1998.

Next year there will be a referendum to decide whether we become a republic or remain a monarchy. For a republic to occur, a majority of people and a majority of states must vote in favour of change, meaning not only a majority of voters overall but a majority of voters in four of the six states.

It seems likely NSW, Victoria and Tasmania will vote in favour of change and Western Australia and Queensland will vote against it. South Australia is likely to be the deciding state. In last year's Constitutional Covention, South Australia voted against the national trend of electing republican candidates.

In Australia, there are more than 300,000 British Subjects, who, if they came here between 1949 and 1984, were given special privilege to vote in elections and referendums without becoming citizens. Successive governments have begged and cajoled these people to become citizens, but they have refused. While it cannot be proven, it is reasonable to predict many will vote against a republic or removing the Union Jack from our flag, as their loyalties lie elsewhere.

Opinion polls suggest that 85 per cent of Australians believe that only citizens should vote in elections and referendums. Yet politicians of all persuasion remain "struck dumb" when the question of reform is raised. Most suggest it would be "retrospective" to take away voting rights. This is utter nonsense. Past voting rights are not an issue. This is no more "retrospective" than denying a person the right to own a certain type of firearm after a given date. These British subjects should be invited to become Australians by a certain date before the referendum, but informed that after that date non-Australian citizens will no longer be entitled to vote.

South Australia has the largest percentage of British subjects, per capita, of any State. Therefore it is not only possible, but quite likely, that a handful of foreigners may thwart the chance of Australia becoming a republic. How cheated would we feel as a nation should this occur? And wouldn't we be the laughing stock of the world?

As there is little, if any, chance of our politicians setting an example and changing the relevant legislation, it is now vital that the issue is challenged in the High Court on the grounds that our voting system is clearly discriminatory.