Who Should Vote in a Referendum?

Extract from The Australian Flag by Carol Foley, p. 149.

There is one final important matter that should be canvassed. If the matter of the flag does eventually go to a referendum, who should have the right to vote? The immediate response logically seems to be: only those who are Australian citizens. Amazingly, this is not the case.

According to Mr Harold Scruby of Ausflag, there are approximately 1 million British citizens in Australia today who will have the right to cast their vote to choose our national flag. And, as there are only some 11,334,423 voters overall in Australia, this means that approximately 9 percent of our voting population are not Australian citizens.

Apparently, because of periodic changes to the Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) over the years, certain British subjects who arrived in Australia over a 35 year period, dating from 1949 to 1984, are entitled under s.93 of the Act to vote in all Australian elections, and likewise in all referendums and plebiscites. Mr Scruby believes that such voting rights should be "a privilege exclusive to Australian citizens" and should not be extended to persons who, although residing permanently in Australia, have chosen not to become Australians. This is a sentiment with which the author wholeheartedly agrees.

In a letter published in the Australian on 21-22 March 1992, Mr Philip Ruddock, then Shadow Minister for Immigration, stated that these voting rights could not now be withdrawn because to do so would be to compound the problem by using retrospective legislation to take away previously given rights. It is submitted, however, that this is not an instance of using retrospective legislation at all. There is no question of retrospectively declaring past voting rights to be invalid. It is simply a matter of passing legislation that states that from now on – that is, prospectively – only Australian citizens are competent to vote in Australia.

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