Memo Fairfax: We Only Give The Vote To Citizens

A DEEPLY MISGUIDED article has appeared in the Fairfax press today, advocating the enfranchisement of 640,000 non-naturalised New Zealand residents of Australia; the idea is ridiculous, and an insult to the citizenship requirements expected of others who come to this country. If New Zealanders wish to vote in Australia without becoming naturalised, their country should perhaps instead contemplate statehood.

New Zealanders: I have no quarrel with you, your country, or rolling out the welcome mat to you. Even so, there are limits, and the anti-Australian Fairfax press seems determined to test them — as usual.

The notion that New Zealand citizens who are permanent residents in Australia but have consciously opted not to become citizens should nonetheless be given the vote, as advocated by senior Fairfax correspondent Daniel Flitton in The Age today, is a dumb, bad idea that echoes the typical Fairfax philosophy that Australia should be for everyone — at the direct expense of those who actually belong here.

Flitton’s call to right “an injustice” rendered upon 640,000 New Zealand citizens who live in Australia but “can’t join our elections” shows a complete misunderstanding of the rights and responsibilities of Australian citizenship, to say nothing of a fundamentally flawed interpretation of the law where immigration and questions of entitlement are concerned.

It is difficult to know whether Flitton is completely serious, mind; his rabbiting on about George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin and former NZ Prime Minister Robert Muldoon are odd given the context, however jovial the cultural cringe they represent. But whether he is or isn’t, many of the assertions in this article are deeply misguided, or simply offensive.

Flitton wails that New Zealanders are “welcome to live here” and to “work and pay tax, own property or marry locals” but are “denied a voice in how the country is run.” That is what happens when immigrants either fail to qualify for citizenship and/or make the conscious decision not to seek it, whether Flitton likes that constitutional and legal reality or not.

He makes a spurious case that Australians who live abroad permanently should somehow not be allowed “a say in civic life” over “someone actually residing here,” whilst lamenting that citizenship, rather than residence, is the determinant of eligibility to vote. The former is an Australian citizen’s birthright. The latter — again — is the law.

“Taxation without representation is tyranny” — as Flitton rather tackily proclaims as a battle cry — be damned.

Flitton is right that some non-citizens in Australia retain the vote: those that were already on the electoral roll before the Hawke government overhauled the eligibility criteria in 1984.

But the Hawke government reforms merely swept away arrangements that were a relic of colonial and federalist times, bringing Australian arrangements more broadly into line with those that apply in most Western democratic countries. Even so, he misses the point.

The arrangements that already apply to allow New Zealanders to live and work in this country (with relatively few restrictions) exist precisely because of their close cultural and geographic links to us, not despite them.

Arguing that because New Zealanders pay income tax on their earnings here they should be entitled to vote is as ridiculous as attempting to mount the same argument in, say, the United Kingdom, where in most cases such a contention will be given short shrift in Whitehall and in Westminster.

And an entitlement to welfare isn’t the only thing income tax payments qualify people for: federal monies help provide healthcare, security, and safe aviation arrangements (to name just a few things) that a New Zealander is able to enjoy as a non-naturalised resident in Australia.

In any case, the responsibility for the welfare arrangements is and should be the responsibility of the New Zealand government, and again — to use the Westminster analogy — attempting to extract benefits from the UK as an Australian citizen living in Great Britain isn’t a particularly fruitful pastime. The same can be said of places like the USA, Canada, and in fact most other countries across the world.

But Fairfax being what it is — a mouthpiece in advocacy for some bizarre notion that not only should Australia refuse to question anyone seeking to come to this country, but to roll out the red carpet and the silverware for them to boot — it should come as little surprise that such notions receive an apparently sympathetic ear from its foot soldiers.

If New Zealanders want the right to vote in Australia, then perhaps the conversation that needs to be had, despite Flitton’s dry assertion that it won’t happen “any time soon,” is the conversation about statehood.

In principle, I have an open mind on the question of New Zealand becoming the seventh state of Australia, and am in no way hostile to it: after all, our peoples have far, far more in common than with any other in the world, as Flitton acknowledges; our customs and ways of life are extremely similar, and Auckland is — not to put too fine a point on it — far closer to Canberra than Perth or Broome are.

But until or unless that were to happen, New Zealanders already have the right to vote: in their own country, for their own government, and I’m even happy to give the current National Party administration of John Key a free plug as it heads toward campaigning for a (well deserved) third term later this year. Frankly, they should cast their votes for Key and be glad their country is in the best shape under his stewardship than it has been for some time.

In the meantime, add New Zealanders to the list already comprising asylum seekers, people smugglers, illegal arrivals and anyone else without a legitimate claim to be here that the Fairfax/ABC/Greens alliance think the rest of us should bestow the privileges of Australian citizenship on whilst abrogating our right to them ourselves: anything (and anyone) to surrender control of this country to someone else. The fruit cakes at the Communist Party Greens would be proud.

And the central premise of Flitton’s column should be treated with the contempt it deserves.