A couple of years ago I wrote about the Italian experiment in allowing expats to vote as part of a specific off-shore constituency. It was perhaps unfortunate (although not surprising given Italy’s post-war electoral history) that the first time this experiment was tried, the expat representatives held the balance of power in the country’s Senate and their votes were crucial in keeping the (thus short lived) elected government in power.
There is a very interesting article in Inside Story by James Panichi which goes in detail into some of the personal and political history of this process in Italy, Australia and South America.
While the article highlights some of the flaws with the model the Italian parliament chose, I still think there are some worthwhile lessons to learn from the attempt the Italians made. Australia does not do anywhere near enough to engage our diaspora – it is very much an out of sight out of mind attitude. I think this is a major mistake given the ever more fluid movements of people around the globe.
There was a sadly neglected Senate Committee report on this topic back in 2005. Of course, the vast majority of Senate Committee reports from the final years of the Howard-era were ignored by the then-government, but I think this one in particular could benefit from some re-examination.
It would be worthwhile for Australia to do more to directly engage our diaspora, although I am not convinced the Italian approach was the best way to go electorally. I prefer the sort of approach Andrew Leigh put forward back in 2004.