Democratic rights

I’m sitting here, watching the UK election results roll in. The BBC keeps thanking me for staying with them through the night, but in truth, it’s not much of a hardship from my Canberra desk with beautiful sunshine streaming through the window.

Although I’ve been gone for ten years now, I still retain an interest in UK politics. However, I don’t vote any more – largely on the ethical ground that it feels unfair to vote for a government that I’d never have to live under.

My interest exposes a strange fact of expatriate life – that, while you retain voting rights in the country you have no intention of returning to, without citizenship, you get no say in the government of the country that takes and spends your taxes.

This isn’t news to me. Despite our ten years in Denmark and my keen interest in the way politics worked in there, I would have needed a Danish passport in order to influence where my 63% income tax and 25% VAT went. In fact, it’s fair to say that the closest I came to having a voice in Danish politics was deciding who I’d vote for in the hypothetical scenario of the Danish TV drama Borgen.

In Denmark, there was no likelihood of the situation changing. Until recently, Denmark did not allow dual citizenship anyway, so in order to become Danish, I’d have had to stop being British, which felt like a bridge too far in order to get a say in my own democracy.

Australia does allow dual citizenship, which means that plenty of new migrants follow a path from new arrivals to new Australians within a four-to-five year window. In fact, two friends posted photos of their own citizenship ceremony this week, and they looked wonderfully proud to have made a full and final commitment to their new country.

All of this matters because we see ourselves as being on the same path. My children sing the Australian national anthem each morning at school – they never knew the words to either the British or Danish anthems. They talk about the long term future here – about whether they will develop Aussie accents in time, about whether they’ll stay in Canberra as adults or end up in some other state, with us as long distance visitors. They already see this as their country, their long term home.

It’s likely that there will be at least one national election in Australia and one state election in the ACT before we get a say in things. Maybe that’s fair enough, as it gives us a while to understand the policies of the various parties and the way the electoral system works here. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the ‘no taxation without representation’ argument. As someone who is politically aware, politically opinionated and politically motivated, I’d like to express my view in elections.

For now, I have a passive interest in the elections of three countries, but I’m looking forward to the day when I have an active interest in one. This one.

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