July 3

Republican call for retrospective measures against British

The case of British subjects who can vote in Australia is not as simple as some would have it (“The nation's most biased newspaper?” 1 July 2009). Although the Federal Parliament enacted a Nationality Act as early as 1920, Australians remained British subjects, including Aboriginal people, until 1987.

Separate Australian citizenship was only created in 1949. Contrary to popular myth Aborigines also became Australian citizens at that time. So from 1949 until 1987, Australians were both citizens and  British subjects. Our passports used to carry this designation until Mr. Whitlam decided to remove it.

British subjects from all over the world could vote in elections in Australia, but this was terminated for new arrivals in 1984. Those already enrolled did not lose their right to vote, nor should they have. It would be wrong to go back now and remove people from the roll who have long been there, who have paid taxes and many of whom have served in the armed forces.

That was the view of the Hawke government, and nothing has happened to change that.

The current campaign against them is agenda driven and heavily influenced by those who wish to impose some politicians’ republic on the nation.  Why don't they go away and work out what sort of republic they are talking about?

It also indicates how desperate the republicans are.  There is no evidence that these British subjects  vote in any significantly different way from other Australians.

I would think that their vote in an election or referendum would be little different from the rest of us. They certainly did not "swing" the 1999 referendum.

Most importantly, they should not be subject to a retrospective law, especially those who have served in our armed forces. 

…"Let time take care of residual British voters"….

 This was a heading for the day’s featured letters on the letters page of The Sydney Morning Herald on 2 July. Although it seems to have a policy of allowing little or even no comment opposing its republican agenda, the Herald is allowing a debate about the proposal to remove retrospectively the voting rights of pre 1987 British subjects.

The column opened with this very measured response from Lt. Col. B. Mahony (Retd), from the ACT.

“George Williams's call to strip the right to vote from British non-citizens who came to Australia before 1984 raises several issues ("Time to take away their right to vote", June 30).

“At that time British immigrants from any country had the right to vote. Many came here at the invitation of Australian governments and institutions, or fled oppressive regimes. Is there any evidence they used their votes irresponsibly or against the national interest? If not, is it fair to move the goalposts?

“Other issues might flow from the loss of voting rights. Would they, or their children, lose the right to access higher education on the same basis as Australian citizens? What about social security and health benefits?

“On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with encouraging these immigrants to become citizens, as I did many years ago. But why is this being pushed so hard now? Think about Labor's plan to have another vote on becoming a republic. As Professor Williams observes, the nearly 163,000 immigrants are "enough to make a difference in a tight contest".

“His call echoes the recent remarks by Daryl Melham and by leaders of the campaign for a republic before the 1999 referendum. Does this indicate a determination to prevent presumed monarchists frustrating republican ambitions?

“Time and non-threatening encouragement could resolve this contrived issue. At least a period of several years should be allowed for these immigrants to take out citizenship and thus retain their right to vote in the land they have made their home.

…not so simple…

In the same column one Brendan Jones of Annandale NSW shows he does not understand the context of the provision.  He asks:

“Why should some non-citizens be allowed to vote, when the vast majority are not? It is fundamentally discriminatory. Either all permanent residents should be allowed to vote, or none – unless they become citizens.

“ It's as simple as that.”

It’s not Mr. Jones, as you will see if you consider the history of the provision.

As David Cullen of Kurrajong writes:

“Although these British subjects have the privilege of voting, the men of the required age had the added responsibility of national service in the Australian armed forces. As the rate of decline in their modest numbers increases, it would be more Australian to let the current situation remain.”

Hear hear.


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