Disenfranchised Australian expats should stay voteless
The committee recommended in their report on the inquiry into the conduct of the 2007 election that current provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 regarding the eligibility of overseas electors to enrol and vote at elections be retained.
Their conclusion has disappointed the Southern Cross Group (SCG), who led a campaign to amend current legislation, and now liken the announcement to being “kicked in the teeth.”
Australian electoral law currently requires electors who are travelling overseas with an intention to take up residence in another country to notify the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) within three years of departure, and then to take the appropriate steps to maintain their enrolment.
The JSCEM considers that “requirements for eligible overseas electors to regularly update their enrolment and vote in Australian elections are appropriate and form a valid method of measuring whether a continuing interest in Australian political affairs exists.”
The SCG, on the other hand, believes that the legislation as it stands may be unconstitutional (according to a recent High Court ruling) and that there should be no time constraints which could deny the right to vote to any overseas Australian.
The group further believes that more should be done by the AEC to educate departing and expat Australians of the electoral rules. SCG member Robyn Stephenson pointed out that "thousands of departing Australians every year have simply no idea that they have to be proactive to maintain their vote. Many mistakenly assume that their Australian citizenship in and of itself is enough to guarantee them a right to re-enrol (and vote) at any time in the future even if deleted from the roll at a certain point.".
The JCSEM, however, reported that "it is simply not feasible for the AEC to ‘track’ electors leaving Australia," whereas "It is not unreasonable that electors abroad should advise the AEC of their circumstances and contact details."
SCG cofounder Anne MacGregor believes the JCSEM’s recommendations, although helpful to those who can still vote, will leave many loyal overseas Australians feeling despondent, since "any Australian citizen who is not presently on the electoral roll and who left more than three years ago remains stripped of a basic democratic right."
In February 2009, the SCG suggested to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that expat enrolment issues should be included in the government’s forthcoming second Green Paper on Electoral Reform, slated for release later this year.
For more information, see www.southern-cross-group.org or contact Robyn Stephenson ([email protected]) or Anne MacGregor ([email protected]).