Past voters' rights intact

Originally published as a Letter to the Editor in The Australian, March 21-22, 1992.

I respond to Mr Harold Scruby (Letters, 14/3), who has asked the Coalition to declare its intentions on the issue of who should have a right to vote.

Mr Scruby has said that the right to vote in Australian elections should be a privilege exclusive to Australian citizens and by inference those British subjects who, prior to 1984, were given that right, ought to now have it taken away from them.

The Liberal Party is currently undertaking a review of the Citizenship Act with a view to incorporating a statement of rights and obligation within its operation. However, if any changes are recommended, they will be prospective in character, as they have been in the past.

There would be no question of withdrawing rights and entitlements already held by non-citizens and permanent residents, including voting rights held by some non-naturalised Australian residents. This was obviously considered in 1984 when changes were introduced to limit the franchise to Australian citizens only after that legislation was given assent.

The issue of citizens' rights does indeed raise a great many complexities and difficulties, which can only be compounded by the introduction of retrospective legislation.

Philip Ruddock
Shadow Minister for Immigration
Canberra