Pommie votes 'break law'

The Australian, 20 April 1989, p.1.

Hundreds of thousands of British subjects may have to be wiped from the Australian electoral roll because they are voting without having become citizens. The Federal Government has been told its Electoral Act is in breach of anti-discrimination laws. That is because British subjects who migrated to Australia between 1949 and 1984, unlike other nationalities, have been allowed to reside in Australia and vote in elections without first becoming naturalised.

A spokesman for the Australian Electoral Commissioner, Mr Trevor Wilson, said yesterday that if the opinion of the Race Discrimination Commissioner, Ms Irene Moss, were upheld, the Government would have to trash the electoral roll and start again. Those British subjects were receiving the benefits of citizenship without having first to be naturalised. The Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act 1981 made changes to the law when the then federal government decided that migrants, irrespective of their country of origin, should be treated equally in relation to voting.

Since January 1984 British subjects wishing to vote have first had to become Australian citizens. The Attorney-General, Mr Bowen, and the Minister for Administrative Services, Mr West, are considering Ms Moss' legal advice, and will determine whether the British subjects are in breach of a law that forbids discrimination on the grounds of race, colour or national and ethnic origin.

A spokesman for Mr West said yesterday that the Australian Electoral Commission would be asked to advise on the matter. Ms Moss maintains in a letter to Mr Bowen that the right of up to a million enrolled British subjects to vote is inconsistent with the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Her letter recommends urgent consideration be given to amending the Electoral Act.