Do Indians matter in Australia?

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Will there be a time when the Australian elections will have more candidates from the several migrant communities making up the fabric of contemporary society?

Perhaps the fact that the Australian elections are a periodic ritual that maintains the status quo explains the non-representative nature of the elections and the Australian parliament. While the large communities of migrants from Asia have been trying to get the political parties to acknowledge their presence and contribution through tickets for candidates from their communities, the political establishment of Australia has once again managed to marginalise these communities and send out the message to the nation that they will remain marginalised. It would be pointless and mistaken to blame individuals or the parties for this state of affairs, as the electoral process is deeply embedded in the larger traditional culture and values of Australia. However, what we can safely gauge from the elections just concluded is that nothing will change unless and until the migrants start clamouring for change.

Going by the statements and language of the Australian political class the migrants from Asia still remain very much a class of minorities and outsiders who can be appeased with handouts and trinkets. This stance towards migrants, something that is the cultural imperative of traditional White colonial Australia, this very stance towards migrants, if one thinks about it, is part of a political strategy aimed at minoritising large sections of the Australian population. Minorities are not just groups of people that don’t have the required numbers; in contemporary society, minoritisation is a social process maintained through the media (by denying representation and propagating stereotypes), residential zoning, economic legislation, visa regimes and importantly through electoral strategies that create constituencies ensuring orchestrated outcomes.

The Indian and Chinese communities are the fastest growing communities in Australia today. The sheer size and numbers of these communities have transformed Australia in the most profound ways. The presence and the growth of these communities, like the other communities, are signs of larger transformations that are at the heart of modern Australia. The migrant communities that live in the West of Sydney, for example, are not a group of outsiders living on the economic and social margins of society—this is a stereotype coming from the social geography of the Australia of yesterday. The migrant communities living in the West and North Western regions of Sydney are the drivers of an economic revival that is the only hope for the future of urban Australia, economically speaking i.e.

Yet in the analyses of the election outcome one heard and saw nothing but a formulaic and predictable chatter about personalities, the party system and the ‘people of Australia’. It was simply business as usual, another election. Of course, the official commentators of the Australian media agree that the West of Sydney needs better infrastructure and investment. And they mentioned time and time again that Sydney’s west might upset many calculations. In the larger scheme of things the migrant from the non-English speaking background managed to get the attention of the willfully blind political commentators. However, debate about migrants from the third world and her/his specific issues are taboo in Australia’s electoral politics.

While the modern world is undergoing tremendous transformations through the global changes in the economy, the social and cultural composition of nations, the disintegration of traditional occupations and jobs, and the accelerated pace of communication and migration, the parliamentary process distorts the social perception of these changes and subject these changes to the needs of a petty and clannish ritual of political theatre. Come elections and the threshold of idiocy seems to rise in Australia. The fact that governments, politicians and legislation can only do so much to foster change in society must be among the reasons why politicians faced with elections are eager to bully the weaker sections in society, whip up xenophobia and engage in mere rhetoric about policy and legislation.

The migrant communities of Australia cannot and must not remain silent faced with this concerted attempt to marginalise them. Much is at stake. Even as these communities contribute enormously to Australia’s social and economic life they must do everything they can to make the electoral process more democratic. Be it refugees, jobs or infrastructure, the migrant, through a perspective that arises from a different history, lived reality and expectations in Australia can transform the old and unrepresentative political agenda that still needlessly casts its oppressive shadow over us today.

Let’s hope that there will be some momentum on this front in the not too distant future. In an urgent and pressing manner, our lives in Australia depend on it. We cannot rest content with the crumbs thrown to us and we must stop thinking that the goodwill of several well-meaning people will lead us to the promised land of a more democratic and representative Australia.

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