It’s Scomo versus Shorten as Australians go the polls today, ending an all-pervading campaign. New Zealander Paul Davies has been watching it from his sofa
Billboards have been defaced, eggs thrown and vile old Facebook posts dug up. It’s difficult to ignore the plethora of election coverage that has bombarded us over recent weeks – even if you ignore the traditional media of TV, radio and print. Election campaigning pervades every bit of your online life, hounding you to try and convince you how to part with your hard earned ballot. Except for me, there’s a complication: I can’t vote.
Despite being a settled, taxpaying resident of Australia, married to an Australian citizen with an Australian citizen son, I’m not today afforded that most basic of democratic rights, the ability to determine the government that makes decisions on our behalf. Or perhaps that’s just it, they don’t make decisions for you, or many of the hard working people that live and contribute the very fabric of Australia – they only do that, for Australian citizens. For a country that loves to talk about getting a “fair go”, it all seems pretty unfair.
Of course the discriminatory approach to voting doesn’t stop political parties from using a non-discriminatory approach to campaigning. A video of the local Green candidate pops up in my Instagram feed, the Labour candidate is wrapped around the local bus stop, election ads follow my every move online – it’s like being invited to a barbie but not being allowed to eat. Even after you’ve paid into the communal account and brought snacks.
Nowhere is sacrosanct, not even your Facebook settings where you’re met with a profile picture filter asking you to “Stand with Scott”. Not bloody likely mate – even if I could. For those that don’t know, Scott’s the prime minister: Scott “Daggy Dad” Morrison. He might not know much about respecting people’s personal space, but he does know politics. He got the top job by being in the right place at the wrongest of times – standing next to Malcolm Turnball as the axe fell into the back of the elected prime minister. Being the leader of Australia’s right wing Liberal Party, Scott is a fan of coal who doesn’t know much about the environment, but he does know the opposition. He knows that Labour leader Bill Shorten is out to end the weekend and he also knows that the big threat to Australian national security is the Greens. That’s right, those tree hugging, bike riding, climate change believers, THEY are the real problem.
And while the prime minister is stirring up rumours about the left, he’s laying groundwork for future deals with the right. Morrison is getting cosy with Clive Palmer, a billionaire who’s bought himself a political party called United Australia. Palmer, a right wing populist, has spent AUD $55 million on brilliant slogans such as “Make Australia Great”. He’s basically a shorter, wider, Australian Donald Trump without the TV experience. Even the deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack from coalition partner The Nationals is courting the far right of Australian politics. He’s publicly courting Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Pauline, who stated that Australia is being “swamped by Muslims” and then wore a burkha into parliament, has been busted trying to cut deals with the NRA. Senator Fraser Anning, the bloke that blamed the Christchurch terror attack on muslims and wore an egg for it, is a former member of One Nation who referenced Hitler when he called for a “final solution” to immigration. These politicians are a hair’s breadth away from the angry white men that hit the streets to throw Nazi salutes – an environment that legitimises hate and breeds extremist behaviour. Just last month a man who’d expressed anti-muslim views on social media was found making explosives in his Adelaide backyard.
The government isn’t innocent in its appeal to Australian “patriotism” either. Last year National and Liberal coalition senators voted on Pauline Hanson’s motion that it’s “OK to be white” – a white supremacist slogan which almost passed parliament. There’s a sense of nationalism here that transcends anything in New Zealand politics – one that reaches beyond scones and bingo to reveal an ugly side.
One can’t help but ponder if Australia’s voting system contributes to the “Aussie Aussie Aussie” screams that echo in the background. David C Earnest, an American researcher who studied the voting rights of residents in 25 countries, developed a scale for tolerance of immigrant residents voting. A score of 0 showed no tolerance for residents voting while a score of 5 was given where residents received non-discriminatory, national voting rights. At the bottom was Australia with a score of 0 and the top was, you guessed it, New Zealand with a score of 5. Perhaps it is this contrast that grates kiwis who live here permanently. Andrew, an IT Consultant from Wellington who’s lived in Australia for over 10 years, is supportive of New Zealand’s electoral system allowing non-citizens who’ve made a contribution to the country having a vote. “I just think the Australian system is a bit archaic”, he says. And living, paying tax and having a family in a country where you can’t vote has an effect. “It does make you feel second class in many ways.”
While it’s difficult to quantify, Heath Pickering, deputy editor of Election Watch, a University of Melbourne initiative which provides non-partisan, fact based, expert election analysis, said that the number of foreign born legal residents who live in Australia but can’t vote is in the millions. Among them are hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders. Heath believes this prejudice against non-citizens is in stark contrast to the principles of democracy, “the fundamental principle of a democracy (which literally translates as “rule by the people”) is that members of the community should have a say in the decisions that affect them.”
It’s this “say” that people like Andrew want to have. “I’m married to an Australian, I have two sons born here and own a house. My future is here so I want to be in a position where I can contribute fully to society more than just pay tax which is essentially all I can do now,” he told me. However, being able to vote requires becoming an Australian citizen – for many Kiwis like Andrew that’s an unnatural fit. “I thought it would somehow make me be less of a Kiwi, but I worked through that and realised I could be a kiwi proud of his heritage while choosing to become a citizen of Australia.” Now a permanent resident, Andrew will qualify for citizenship at the end of the year. It’s not just pride that gets in the way though.
Adam, a brand manager originally from Auckland with an Australian partner and children, said the financial burden was a barrier. “The main reason I am not a citizen is due to the cost. Even through a de-facto spousal avenue it will still cost approximately AUD $4000 just to become a (permanent) resident and then another year or two of waiting to become a citizen.” And even if Adam forks out to pursue that path, there’s no guarantee he’ll reach the finish line.
Shifting goalposts for New Zealand residents in Australia is a common theme. In 2014, Tony Abbott enacted sweeping changes to the Migration Act, resulting in the deportation of more than 1600 New Zealand born Australian residents – many of whom had been here since children and have no family across the Tasman.
And while Labor talks about New Zealanders in Australia being left in limbo by the government, actual policy on how to fix the problem is thin on the ground. The fact that most kiwis don’t get to vote might have something to do with it. But if they did, what issues would they vote on? Andrew sees education, healthcare, climate, and infrastructure as important issues, while Adam wouldn’t mind having a say on the environment, immigration and taxation of corporations. They seem standard issues, so why not consider letting residents have a vote?
While the arguments for extending voting rights include proper representation for taxpayers that are part of society and avoiding the pitfalls of biased treatment against certain nationalities (cough-cough-KIWIS-cough-cough), Heath Pickering said that many Australians are concerned that adding millions of new voters to the mix would change the political landscape. Given that Australian politics is heading down a dangerous path of engaging with far right, intolerant political parties with connections to hate groups while struggling with huge international issues such as human rights and climate change, maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad move?
Philippa, originally a Dunedin woman who’s lived in Australia for seven years, told me that New Zealanders in Australia not being able to vote is not known by the public. “Your everyday Aussie doesn’t know about this and they’re shocked when they find out.” A programme manager for the Australian Medical Council, Philippa struggles to understand why it’s an issue. “I literally work for the betterment of the Australian health system and community, yet can’t vote to support it. I love living here – why can’t I ensure the quality of life in Australia, for myself and others, with my vote?” She thinks that adding foreign born residents to the mix would benefit everyone, resulting in “more voices, with slightly better accents, investing in the future of the country.”
Adam believes there’s more to gain than just sexier accents having their say. “I think it’ll introduce more free thinkers to the mix. People who’ve been raised in other countries and haven’t been indoctrinated with the Australian political system.” For some Australians however, especially those who seek to control the destiny of those living in the land down under, perhaps therein lies the problem.
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