Australia: Politicians warned not to generalise migrants in final push for multicultural seats

Same applies in Canada with the exception of the more complicated Australian voting system:

Australia’s culturally diverse electorates are set to play a key role in determining the outcome of the 2019 federal election on Saturday.

That’s because they are often the most marginal seats, with candidates forced to pay particular attention to language barriers, and a wide range of issues important to migrant communities.

The 10 most marginal of the more multicultural seats, based on languages spoken at home, are all in New South Wales and Victoria.

Six are held by Labor, while the Liberals held four but lost Chisholm when Julia Banks defected and is now running as an independent candidate.

To try and tap into culturally diverse communities, politicians from both sides have had campaign posters and how to vote cards translated into different languages and lobbied Chinese Australians on WhatsApp.

They have also lobbied hard for cultural and religious leaders to back them.

But with Australia home to 300 different ethnic groups, it can often be hard for politicians to get traction on issues specific to the different backgrounds, say academics and those working with migrant groups.

“It’s very difficult because there’s great differentiation among and within migrant communities in Australia,” Jayana Nadarajalingam from the University of Melbourne’s School of Government said.

“And this differentiation is across many different interrelated dimensions, such as race, culture, religion, language, class, just to name a few.”

Ms Nadarajalingam told SBS News it was important to remember issues and concerns also change with time and across generations.

“For these reasons, unless politicians properly consult members of migrant communities and ensure that the consultation is a two-way process, it would be near impossible for them to properly ascertain the complexities of the issues migrant communities face.”

With almost half of Australians having at least one parent born overseas, Ms Nadarajalingam said there have been concerns about politicians and media outlets risking generalising the issues facing people from migrant backgrounds.

“Not all of these issues are internal to Australia and their lives in Australia. Many also have concerns that are to do with ties that they have to countries that they left or in many cases fled,” she said.

“There are some generalisations that you can draw, but because we live in a complex society and there’s economic institutions, social institutions that have to navigate, I think there’s great differentiation, within specific migrant communities and also across them.

“We have to be careful about not being too broad-brushed about how we perceive migrant communities and voting patterns.”

Conservative leanings

Even if there are common issues that many members of migrant communities face, the way they might want to respond may be different. This stands in general contrast to the 2017 same-sex marriage survey, which illustrated how conservative the multicultural vote can be.

The result was a clear ‘yes’ victory but 12 of the 17 seats that voted against same-sex marriage were diverse ones, in Sydney’s west.

Could those more conservative views see left-leaning seats swing to the right in the federal election though? Ariadne Vromen from the University of Sydney says it is unlikely.

“The marriage equality plebiscite was kind of a distinct event,” the professor of political sociology told SBS News.

“It’s true that in western Sydney they were more likely to vote no in those particular electorates. Whether or not that translates into a conservative vote for the Coalition will depend on how campaigning happens in those areas. But those are pretty safe Labor seats.”

‘Proud’ to be voting

The 18 May poll marks the first time 18-year-old fashion student Geraldine Kaburakikuyu will be allowed to vote. It’s the first time for her family too after they migrated from Kenya in 2010.

The issues that Geraldine says will sway her vote, though, are different from her mother’s.

“Probably education and public transport,” she told SBS News.

“Just because I got to uni and always catch the public transport. That’s probably what affects me most, but I feel like for my mum it’s more about housing.”

Geraldine says she is proud to cast her ballot, a feeling shared in her suburb of Mortdale in south-west Sydney, by other overseas-born voters.

“I feel good considering everywhere election is a big issue, and most people don’t enjoy the privilege. So I’m pretty lucky to be here in this country,” said one voter who migrated to Australia from Malaysia more than 50 years ago.

Temporary resident Tehmoor Rasheed says he’s passionate about Australian politics. And says he dreams for the day when he’ll get to vote here.

“Every vote counts,” Mr Rasheed said.

“Nowadays democracy comes from every vote, so of course I will be really happy whenever I will be eligible to vote.”

‘Most confusing electoral system’

But according to Dr Jill Sheppard, a politics lecturer at the Australian National University, voting can prove a difficult process for many migrants.

“We have about the most confusing electoral system in the world, so for a lot of people if you’re not from an English speaking background, or if you’re not very literate in Australian politics, voting in Australian elections can be a bit of a nightmare,” she said.

And Professor Vromen believes there’s another issue yet to be fully addressed by the major parties – and that’s a lack of diversity in political candidates. She says this could hinder many migrant’s chances to connect with the parties vying for their vote.

“There are very few politicians from diverse cultural backgrounds in Australian politics, and that’s what we kind of need to focus on more into the future, that younger communities do see themselves reflected within our politics.”

Dr Sheppard agrees.

“The Anglo vote, the native Australian-born vote, is still very very strong, and we have research for instance from Australia that they don’t really like ethnic minority candidates,” she said.

“As long as there’s still that overwhelming Anglo-Australian vote, they will continue to demand candidates that look like them and it is increasingly hard for ethnic minority voters to find candidates who will represent them culturally.

Source: Politicians warned not to generalise migrants in final push for multicultural seats

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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