Monday, August 06, 2007

Greater political representation for expatriate Australians

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I am not a constitutional expert by any means, though I suspect there are other bi-cameral (2-house) parliamentary structures around the world that offer upper house representation on the basis of residence. My specific interest and understanding comes from the Australian parliamentary system. We have 2 houses:
1. Lower House - House of Representatives - elected by each person according to the majority of seats won in each electoral constituency. The party(s) with the majority of seats in this house form the government.
2. Upper House - Senate - elected by each person according to a majority of seats won in each state where the distribution of seats is geographically equally dispersed and not based on population concentrations.

The intent of this system is to afford greater protection to the smaller states which would otherwise lack representation in the government. The implication is that people should have representation on the basis of where they live. It therefore strikes me as reasonable that Australians living abroad should have separate and distinct representation in the Australian parliament by virtue of living abroad. This is not to suggest that they should have a political party, but rather than there should be another electorate which comprises Australians living abroad. This seems particularly sensible given that the powers of government seem to extend offshore and that little ocnsideration is given to expatriates - by virtue of being absent. The Australian parliament duly recognised the needs of expatriates by holding a parliamentary inquiry into their needs. Though that inquiry appeared to have come to nothing.

Notwithstanding the flaws of our parliamentary system, it would seem appropriate to adopt an electorate of 'Abroad'. It would seem logical that an ambassador or expatriate would seek office for this seat if uit were ever to be established.
You might ask why should expatriates have separate representation? I can think of several reasons:
1. They have very different and distinct issues from resident Australians
2. They pay higher rates of tax than resident Australians, yet use fewer services
3. They have less contact to local political issues as resident Australians, effectively rendering their vote in 'local elections' as useless. In conrast, if there was an expatriate electoral MP then Australians residing abroad could lobby and receive material consonate with their interests.
It must be remembered that there are about 1 million Australians living abroad and that they represent 5% of the 20mil total Australian population. It is fair to say they would be a political force if they were given independent representation.
The proposal before you is not a ludicrous proposition given that our parliament already recognises the need for representation of minorities from different geogrpahic regions. In fact, given that the 'tyranny of distance' between Canberra and Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin, Perth and Brisbane has been removed by modern transport and communications, then dont expatriates living abroad have a more compelling claim to a Senate seat than resident Australians. We have to understand that the globalisation of internaitional markets means that there are far more Australians living abroad than 100 years ago when the constitution was adopted.

It seems clear that either expatriates should be given due representation or that the provisions for a senate be erased because they are no longer pertinent to the era of modern communication and transport.

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Reason is the standard for debate.

- Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com
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