The Albanese government has made it apparent over the past few days that it has a substantial agenda of electoral reform in mind, which it will hopefully do a better job of delivering on than the last Labor government. My main focus here is on the Prime Minister’s announcement on Friday that the government will look at reciprocating an existing arrangement where voting rights are granted to Australians resident in New Zealand for more than a year, along with other measures designed to smooth relations with New Zealand and otherwise drop the previous government’s obnoxious attitude.
Voting in Australia has been restricted to citizens since an earlier requirement of British subjecthood plus six months’ residency was dropped in 1984, grandfathered so as not to remove existing rights from a now dwindling band of mostly British and New Zealander non-citizens. New Zealand, however, has since 1975 granted voting rights to permanent residents, which raises the question as to why the Albanese government’s proposal should be limited to New Zealanders in particular.
When changes to electoral laws are on offer, it always pays to consider how those proffering them might stand to benefit — and I dare say there have been suggestions in right-wing media spaces over the past few days of a Labor plot to preserve its hold on power by unleashing legions of foreign dole bludgers upon our electoral roll. With this in mind I set to work on the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ TableBuilder census data facility to get a detailed look at the demographic characteristics of New Zealand-born non-citizens, only to learn the hard way that they are yet to stock it with data from last year’s census.
Having made do instead with results from 2016, I have produced the chart below comparing population percentages among those aged 20 and over by weekly personal income. The only evidence for the stereotype is that 7.0% of New Zealand-born non-citizens report negative or no income compared with 5.5% for Australian citizens — that aside, our New Zealanders actually tend to be fairly affluent, particularly in the upper-middle part of the range.