The Indian vote and Sydney’s west

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Dr James Jupp is a political scientist and migration scholar who has taught in universities in Melbourne, York, Waterloo and Canberra. He has published widely in the fields of Australian politics, immigration, ethnicity and comparative politics.

Dr Jupp was the director of the Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. He was a member of the Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs, chairman of the ACT Multicultural Advisory Council and of the ACT Reference Group of the Bureau of immigration, multicultural and population research as well as a member of the Planning and Steering Committees for the Global Cultural Diversity conference held in Sydney in April 1995. DrJupp has also been chairman of the Review of Migrant and Multicultural Programmes and Services, which presented its report Don’t Settle for Less, to the minister for immigration in August, 1986.

On Australia Day 2004 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for “service to the development of public policy in relation to immigration and multiculturalism, to education, and to the recording of Australian history”.

Among his books are The Australian People (Sydney 1988 and Melbourne 2001), and From White Australia to Woomera (Melbourne 2007).

He responded to a list of questions The Indian Sun emailed him about immigrants, political parties and the imminent NSW elections.

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Is there an ethnic vote, migrant vote or an Indian vote in the western suburbs of Sydney where large Indian/sub-continental populations live?

There is a very large vote by “ethnic Australians” in the western suburbs and most of the seats there are held by Labor. However, “Indians” are only one of many different ethnic groups and are not as strong as, say, Muslims, Greeks, Chinese, Vietnamese etc. This is mainly because so many Indians are on temporary residence visas, especially as students, and are not citizens with the vote. This also relates to other questions, as only citizens can vote or run for office.

 

Why do you think it is still difficult for an Indian or a Chinese or Vietnamese candidate to get a safe seat?

It is difficult for anyone to get a safe seat. These seats mainly go to people who have lived in an area for many years, have been active in one of the major parties locally, and already have a record as local councillors etc. Recent arrivals have to work their way up through the main parties, which may take years.

 

Is there any logic in Labor fielding a candidate from an Indian background in Seven Hills, and the Liberal Party nominating an Indian candidate in the almost impossible-to-win seat of Blacktown?

As far as I can see Seven Hills is the old Toongabbie seat and is also adjacent to Blacktown. There are large numbers of Indians in these areas, but an Indian, Ashok Kumar, who ran in Toongabbie in 2011 as an independent, got only a tiny number of votes. As a rule it does not matter much what your “ethnicity” is if you are not associated with the major parties or local organisations. The Liberals have tried to win Blacktown with a Filipino candidate in the last two Federal elections but failed. They also failed to win the marginal seat of Greenway with a Filipino. That area has about 15,000 Indian residents. The Liberals are putting up more “ethnic” candidates than Labor now, but it does not work.

 

Do you think immigration and the problems of immigrants living in Sydney’s western suburbs, for instance, are campaign issues? If they are not, could you explain why this is so, although politicians in western Sydney constantly network with ethnic communities and their ‘leaders’ and associations?

Immigration is a Federal power and does not directly arise in State elections. However, multicultural services do, and there are important ethnic organisations working for them. These could be one element raising migrant interest or helping the selection of candidates. Many ethnic services are run by Labor supporters in the western suburbs.

 

Do you think, so far as ethnic voters are concerned both the main parties have converging policies and political agendas that are not sensitive to the needs of ethnic immigrant communities?

On most issues the major parties are converging, especially on asylum seekers and Muslim influences. In some areas in the western suburbs there is considerable “ethnic” influence in the party factions (e.g. Lakemba) but this does not necessarily get out to the ordinary voters.

 

Do you think Labor still enjoys the support of large sections of ethnic immigrants in Sydney’s west?

Labor still wins the majority in the western suburbs. However, three Federal seats were lost in the Commonwealth election. Many Chinese, Indians, Koreans, East Europeans etc. are well established in the middle classes and favour the Liberals. Immigrants today are not necessarily working class.

 

Is there any reason to believe that the Liberals are less sympathetic to ethnic immigrants?

The Liberals have put up many “ethnic” candidates but they do not normally win. Many Liberal leaders, such as John Howard, were hostile to multiculturalism in the past. Liberal government policy on asylum has been much the same as Labor. However, the great majority of Liberal politicians represent Anglo-Australian middle class seats where most voters are Anglo-Australians.

 

Members of the Indian community have for a while been demanding that South Asians and other ethnic candidates should start getting safe seats. Given that ethnic electorates are internally varied and divided along lines of class, language, religion, will this assist in reaching out to the diverse elements in society today?

Members of the Indian or any other “community” can demand safe seats. However, for reasons given above, that will not have much influence on the major parties. Working through parties, local associations, welfare groups, ethnic services etc. is the way to go. Progress has been very slow but has happened. Basically there is not a solid, organised “ethnic” vote or even an “Indian” vote. It is necessary to organise within geographical areas (seats, councils, cities) and political parties in sufficient numbers and unity to get the rewards. It is often necessary to lose a few times first.

 

Do you think ethnic community leaders who are close to political parties can represent or help change political debates around election time?

Yes—politics involves prominent people who have influence and can deliver support. Government and parties like to operate through prominent “ethnics” and this is most obvious in the Sydney and Melbourne “ethnic” districts. Indians have the advantage of being well educated and speaking English. One basic problem is that “ethnic politics” is focused on getting prestige in the communities, rather than influencing the larger population.

 

 

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