ANTHONY PUN. The battle for the Chinese Australian vote.

Apr 5, 2019

Important lessons learned in the last state elections in Victoria and NSW point to the ubiquitous use of social media “WeChat” in influencing voters in the Chinese Australian community and the realisation that their votes could be pivotal in changing governments.  The current battle for the Chinese Australian vote is on! 

An important lesson learned by both Coalition and Labor from the March 2019 NSW State election is the new weapon of propaganda, the ubiquitous iPhone that can carry unedited and uncensored short messages or video.  “WeChat” is the popular Chinese Australian (CA) social media platform whilst “WhatsApp” is used by the general public.

The second lesson learned was the importance and size of the Chinese Australian vote;  the population census estimated that 1.2 million of them reside in Australia (not all are citizens).  With the Federal elections coming up in May 2019, both major parties are reaching out to get the CA votes.

A telephone survey of some leaders of the CA community in Victoria confirmed the recent phenomena in the wide use of WeChat in the electorate with demographics showing a high percentage of CA votes. The lack of controversial remarks that would trigger significant swings would account for the normal distribution of votes, even in electorates highly populated by CAs.

It is now clear that CAs on each side of the political fence, together with their chosen political leader, would be churning out more messages (translated into Chinese) and video to their audiences, friends and foes alike.

The battle for the CA vote has begun and the first salvo fired by the Liberal Party was the announcement of “parachuting” Scott Yung who has polled extremely well against Chris Minns, a senior Labor MP who retained the seat of Kogarah in the last NSW State election by a slim margin.  The Libs’ proposal to replace Craig Lundy (retiring Lib MP) in the Federal seat of Reid however, has a small snag, i,e. the other Liberal candidate is also Asian but a local in the electorate.  A commentary in the SMH on this issue has been published:

‘Both the Bangladeshi and Chinese communities are keen to get a candidate from their side to be in public office. Cynically, the one that can raise the $$s, gets the nod. Ahmed’s professional and political experience is ahead of Yung’s, whilst Yung’s polling achievement was surprising strong in the Kogarah electorate in the last NSW State election. Australian voters can separate between federal and state issues and a total reliance on Daley’s remarks in a federal seat would be foolish. The predicted swing against the Coalition due to internal squabbles, ship-jumping and some far-right policies/legislation, cannot be ignored. Immigration, citizenship and the FITS Act 2018, do not sitt well with the Chinese Australian community. Parachuted candidates usually have wide Australian popularity. To win the seat, the candidate needs to capture the majority of the Chinese Australian vote.’

The second salvo fired was about putting One Nation last on how to vote cards.  Although both leaders are trying to show a united front, they both have loose cannons with Queensland LNP not completely toeing the line and the ACTU Secretary saying “put the Liberals last”.  Community commentary published in The Age said:

‘In the wake of the NZ massacre, NZ PM Jacinta Ardern behaved like a statesman in promoting community harmony, whilst our PM was hesitant in putting One Nation last on the preference vote.  For this, he will face a backlash of voters.  Now the ACTU Secretary Sally McManus was reported to say “put the Liberals last”.  Unless this view is nipped in the bud asap, Labor would suffer a great loss of votes similar to Daley’s racial remarks that caused the Labor party to lose in the last NSW election. The criticism levelled at PM Morrison for scarifying community harmony for power also applies to the ACTU Secretary.  If this issue is blown up by the media, then Labor trips again and gives the election to the Coalition by default.’

The CA community would prefer not to have race politics in Australia because it is divisive.  There are merits in Bill Shorten’s demands for the Coalition to sign the racism code of conduct and the community view has been aired in a letter to the Editor of SMH (published):

‘Bill Shorten in pressing PM Morrison to back a parliamentary “race ethics” is commendable because the use of “racism” as a tool of fear to gain power is morally unacceptable. There are no long term benefits for Australia and it is divisive.  I urge political leaders to drop the racial card and put forward progressive and beneficial policies for the voters to decide.  Hence, to start with, place One Nation last on the ballot paper and get rid of race politics because it is a distraction displacing real issues.’

A third salvo was fired when PM Morrison announced the creating of a $44 million foundation to repair Australia-China relations. The Chinese Australian community welcomes PM Morrison’s intention to repair Australia-China relations with a proposed $44 million budget.  However, it remains to been seen whether this is an election promise or a genuine attempt to improve relations. The reservation of the community about such a promise is based on the events of the last two years where tremendous pressure has been placed on the Chinese Australian community by consistent reports of China’s interference in Australian politics; and culminating in legislation of the FITS Act 2018. All these events have led to increase xenophobic responses in Australia.

An attempt to improve Australia-China relations should be coupled with a conciliatory program that would remove the stress and trauma of having their loyalty questioned and from other racial taunts.

If PM Morrison is serious about mending relations with China, then the government needs to put out an independent policy white paper but maintaining our military alliance with the US.  The policy should address these issues:  reconsideration of  5G proposals, repealing (or amending) the FITS Act 2018, a non-partisan attitude in US-China hegemony issues particularly in the Asia Pacific.   These issues are obstacles to relationship repair.

The Australia-China Council should be resuscitated and restructured to include the views of the 1.2 million Chinese Australians, otherwise it is just another government entity that is insensitive to the broader Chinese Australian community views.

Charity begins at home and please solve the Australian government community relations with Chinese Australians before venturing overseas to improve Australia-China relations.

Political leaders should not use the “fear” of China to buy votes.  There is a better approach to Australia-China relations and a forthcoming publication by China Matters “Written as from a Prime Minister of Australia, setting out a basis for a national consensus or accord on a China Narrative for Australia” is a good guide.

Dr Anthony Pun is the current National President of the Chinese Community Council of Australia Inc.

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