Frustration for long-term residents over voting in election

SBS World News Radio: There are calls for a rethink of electoral laws to extend the right to vote to permanent residents.

by Gareth Boreham

By 6 o’clock on Saturday evening, around 15.5 million Australians will have cast their ballots in the 2016 federal election.

But there are potentially millions more long-term adult residents who will be watching from the sidelines.

It has prompted calls for an electoral law rethink to extend the right to vote beyond just citizens.

Hailing from a homeland that prides itself on being the home of democracy, many Greek-Australians look forward to having their say on July 2.

But the unusually long campaign has not always set their pulses racing.

Not all migrants will be able to take part in the democratic process of their adopted land, though.

Indian-born broadcaster Shamsher Kainth, for example, is used to the vibrant colour and movement that marks election campaigns on the subcontinent.

But while he is now an Australian resident, he has not yet qualified for citizenship and, therefore, is not entitled to vote in the federal election.

“Now that I’m here permanently, I’ve decided to call Australia my home, there is a feeling in the back of my head that, you know, I am being left out of this, I would say, very momentous. Momentous procedure.”

University of Melbourne election analyst Heath Pickering agrees.

“I think it’s perfectly reasonable to allow permanent residents to vote in national elections, because they are members of the community, and they are contributing, they are participating, and they do want to live here permanently.”

The official figures highlight just how many Australians over age 18 will be missing from Saturday’s vote.

The Electoral Commission says there are more than 15.4 million voters enrolled for the election.

That is 94 per cent of the almost 16.5 million eligible.

But it does not include any of those permanently living in Australia who are not citizens.

Heath Pickering says figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and elsewhere suggest they could number in the millions themselves.

“It’s hard to gauge, looking at Australian Bureau of Statistics and Immigration Department figures about how many permanent residents are living in Australia that are currently disenfranchised. But there are estimates of at least a couple of million, including a quarter of a million New Zealanders who live permanently in Australia but are not able to vote on Saturday.”

There has long been anger among New Zealanders over the difficulty they face in obtaining citizenship in Australia.

For those from nations like India and Germany, acquiring an Australian passport and getting the vote can also pose a dilemma.

It most often means they are forced to renounce their citizenship in their homelands.

That is not an issue for those coming from countries such as Greece or Italy, who are allowed to have dual nationalities.

How do Australia’s voting restrictions compare to other countries?

In the 1970s, New Zealand granted permanent residents the vote in national polls.

In the United States, non-citizen voting was widespread in the first 150 years of its history, but, since 1996, national laws have barred non-citizens from voting in federal elections.

Only Canadian citizens are permitted to vote in that country’s national polls.

In the United Kingdom, the Irish and some Commonwealth citizens are allowed to vote because, historically, they are not regarded as foreigners.

Shamser Kainth says many in Australia will be disappointed at being left out on Saturday.

“People respect the procedures, the way it is, but then I’m sure there would be many people out there who would love to participate in this process if they are given the chance.”

[Read the SBS article].

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