Non-citizens who vote

Originally published as a Letter to the Editor in The Weekend Australian 14-15 March 1992.

Recently the Federal Opposition announced that if elected it would remove a variety of rights, benefits and entitlements to residents who were not Australian citizens. No mention was made of the most important right in a democracy - the right to vote.

British subjects who migrated to Australia from 1949 to 1984, unlike all other nationalities, have been allowed to reside in Australia and vote in our elections without ever becoming naturalised Australian citizens. It is not known exactly how many British subjects are currently on the electoral rolls. It is estimated that there are one million such people.

In reply to our letter to the Human Rights Commission as to whether the current Commonwealth Electoral Act is discriminatory in giving voting rights to certain classes of British subjects who are not Australian citizens, while denying rights to other non citizens, the then acting secretary, Dr John. Hookey advised: "The commission was of the opinion that (our) letter raised interesting, important and complex points of law and practice..."

Additionally, the secretary of the then Department of the Special Minister for State advised us that: "In a legal sense, only people who are formally Australian citizens owe allegiance to the Monarch in her capacity as Queen of Australia." In simple terms these British subjects vote in our elections without any allegiance to our head of state or country.

Ausflag's interest in this issue is simple. If the matter of deciding on a new flag is put to a plebiscite, as was the national anthem in 1977, we believe that only Australians should be permitted to vote on such a matter. Similarly, as only Australian citizens are allowed to sit in the Federal Parliament, we also believe that when these members of Parliament are asked to vote on a new flag they should be elected solely by Australians.

The right to vote in Australian elections should be a privilege exclusive to Australian citizens. We believe the overwhelming majority of Australians strongly support this view.

We ask both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to declare their views and intentions on this matter.