Italy’s overseas seats


ABC Radio National’s Background Briefing program broadcast a fascinating program two weekends ago regarding the interaction of Italian and Australian politics arising from Italy’s expatriate seats.

The 2006 Italian election was the first election since the Italian electoral system was changed to include seats in Parliament dedicated to Italian citizens living abroad. This system divides the entire world into a number of electorates, including the “Oceania” electorate, which elects one Italian MP to the Chamber of Deputies and one Senator, in an area covering Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, Asia, Africa and Antarctica. Despite the vast expanse of the electorate, most live voters live in Australia, particularly in Melbourne.

The program lays out the fascinating complications added to the political system when elections spill over national boundaries. In particular, the centre-left coalition L’Unione came into conflict with Italian-Australians and particularly Italian-Australian members of the Australian Labor Party through the Italian-Australian Labor Network. Figures such as Victorian state MP Carlo Carli and Mayor of Moreland Joe Caputto. The IALN signed a factional agreement with Italy’s centre-left parties agreeing that Italian-Australian ALP members would support the centre-left candidates in exchange for control over future preselections.

It raises interesting questions about its effectiveness, the ethics of giving citizens living abroad a say over the government of a country they no longer live in, and how it could be used for other countries.

In New Zealand, the NZ Green Party has repeatedly nominated a handful of NZ expatriates living in Australia and the UK, some of which are active in the local Green parties. Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples recently proposed that, now that one-eighth of Maoris live in Australia, an eighth Maori seat should be established in Australia. How would this inter-relate with Australian politics, particularly in Queensland where a majority of Maori expatriates live? What about the large numbers of New Zealanders living in Australia?

Over one million Australians live overseas. Should electorates be established in the UK, China, Japan, the United States? It might seem unconstitutional at first glance, but then again there is no reference to Territory electorates in the constitution either. The concept of a Member of the House of Representatives representing Australians in China raises the issue of how a foreign democratic election could be conducted in a dictatorship.

What do you think? How do we represent the hundreds of thousands of Australian voters disenfranchised by living overseas? How would Australian politics be influenced by electing MPs representing expatriates?

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  1. A lot of Australians live in London. They have the right to vote in both Australia and in the UK (and can even stand for parliament in both), since the UK just requires someone to be a resident of the UK and a Commonwealth Citizen.

    On the other hand, an Australian living in the US or most other countries has no right to vote in those countries. If you eliminate the right of Australians to vote if they are not in their country, you eliminate their right to vote in any country. That basically says that people not living in their country of citizenship are stateless people with no right to participate in the democratic process.

    Both Italy and Australia let their citizens vote while they are overseas. There are really only two differences:
    1) Italy has a lot more overseas citizens than Australia (partially due to emigration, partly due to more liberal citizenship requirements)
    2) Italy has overseas citizens vote in a separate seat while Australia forces overseas citizens to vote in the seat they last lived in (which defeats the point of a “local” member).

  2. Yes, I believe that Australia House in London is usually the largest polling booth in each federal election.

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