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?