ANTHONY PUN. Chinese Australian votes and the 2019 NSW State Election

Mar 25, 2019

This article promotes the theory that there is an effective Chinese Australian vote that can change political outcome of a seat if the ingredients viz. issues affecting Chinese Australians, high percentage of Chinese Australian voters and a marginal seat.  This observation is similar to the ethnic votes under John Howard administration. The conclusion is drawn from observation of events leading to the election, the election result, the use of social medial as a strategic weapon.

In the late 1990s, the question was asked whether there was an ethnic vote during the John Howard administration.  Yes, there was if three conditions were met.  Firstly, there was an issue affecting the ethnic communities.  Secondly, the seat was  marginal or close to marginal.  Thirdly, the number of ethnic votes was  substantial (say 20%).  Former PM John Howard recognised this phenomenon and acceded to the request of the ethnic communities to put Paul Hanson last in the preferences. Furthermore, there was an abundance of ethnic helpers in election booth.

In looking at the results of the last NSW State elections, the question of whether there is a Chinese Australian (CA) vote arises?   With 1.2 million in Australia, and nearly 40% in NSW, their voting strength is increasingly effective, and politicians ignore this fact at their peril.

A good example of the CA vote is in the NSW seat of Rockdale where the sitting Labor MP Chris Minns was challenged by a young and unknown CA, Scott Yung, for the Liberal Party.  Yung appeared to be “parachuted’ to Kogarah  by Liberal Party and most CA do not expect him to win.  CA are constantly aware of the use of CA candidates by both political parties as token challenges to a sitting member.

The events and observations from last Saturday ‘s election includes:

  • The announcement of a CA candidate for Kogarah  stimulated strong responses from the CA community on both Labor and Liberal camps.
  • There was no shortage of CA people attending fund raising dinners for Yung.
  • Organisation of volunteers for polling booths was strong and effective on both sides. The number of CA volunteers in the pooling both exceeded 10 people per shift for both sides.
  • The Liberals dug up the story on Daley’s racial comments and capitalised heavily on it. Despite Daley’s apology, the media continued to press the issue.
  • The Chinese government owned CCTV then congratulated Yung on his candidacy.
  • Social media on the congratulatory messages by  Chinese TV stars were sent out through “WeChat (a Chinese WhatsApp) far and wide.
  • Despite the polarization, there was no conflict with CAs volunteers at the polling booths.
  • The body language of those CA voters that accept or not accept polling leaflets left an impression that the race was close.
  • I had the opportunity to speak to CAs volunteers on both sides and got the impression the CA community support is divided.

For an electorate of 34% CAs and without going into too much calculation, the vote count showed a 3.8% swing to Liberals in a supposedly safe Labor seat with a 6% margin.  One does not have to be a rocket scientist to come up with conclusions about the CA votes.

  • Yes, there is a CA vote particularly where an issue affects the CA community (Daley’s remarks) and a significant number of CA voters. Although Minns retained his seat, the polling numbers showed a neck-to-neck polling on first preferences.  Even Minns concurred about a possible loss in the early hours of counting.
  • It is good to see CA learning what democracy is all about by coming out to become politically active in the election process.
  • The CCTV congratulatory message to Yung seems innocent enough however, some in the general public may perceive  that as “interference”. Together with “WeChat”, it helped Yung to pull swing CA voters to the Liberals.
  • The use of social media by CAs in elections was first alerted by Prof Wanning Sun. The Bennelong by election in 2017 and the current Kogarah election confirmed the efficacy of social Chinese media “WeChat” by CA in spreading messages, particularly on political opinion that can influence votes.
  • The adjacent seat of Oatley held by Liberal Mark Coure MP, received a swing of 4.1% to Liberals. Both Oatley and  Kogarah shared the same demographics and it is no co-incidence that both electorates received similar swings to the Liberals.  The reasons for the swing by CAs are the same.
  • The relationship between the MPs (like Dominello & Coure), and the CA community are good because they spent time cultivating this relationship.

It is worthwhile noting that the CCTV episode about Yung, has set a precedence and we may see more of that in the coming Federal election. Most CA consider this issue unimportant and harmless .However, the Australian public might perceive otherwise.

Although most pundits would bet on the Coalition losing the next Federation, I would caution this thinking and complacency, particularly if the Coalition comes up with public policies that attracts the CA votes or the Opposition trips again.

Dr Anthony Pun, OAM is currently the National President of the Chinese Communities Council of Australia Inc.

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