Sydney/18th March, 2016
Next federal election for Australian Commonwealth Parliament will be held later this year. If the Turnbull Government goes for the double dissolution of the Parliament, then this election may happen as early as July. If not, then they will happen in September-October. Opinion polls are indicating a tough contest between Bill Shorten-led Australian Labor Party (ALP) and Malcolm Turnbull-led Coalition of Liberal Party & National Party. Significant lift in the numbers for the Coalition in the opinion polls after Malcolm Turnbull became the Prime Minister has largely drifted away from the Coalition. There are multiple reasons for it and these reasons are well known. Honeymoon period for the new Prime Minister is well and truly over. Lack of policy clarifications and policy direction are also relevant. Western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney have many seats which are classed as marginal, where a small change of voting can deliver these seats to either party. If ALP wins many of these seats, Bill Shorten will become the Prime Minister. The Coalition will need to hold on to many of these seats if they want to form the next Government. They definitely have a tight contest.
People in the Western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, like similar areas in other cities, are doing tough, with higher unemployment, cost of living pressure and poverty. These factors often lead to higher level of dissatisfaction and willingness to change the voting pattern. Their votes are up for the grab.
Newer migrants and people who can’t afford to buy expensive houses in Northern and Eastern Sydney, find Western Sydney as a place where they can find houses within their reach. In regards to Indian Australians in NSW, it is well known that this community has a significant presence in Western Sydney. Suburbs like Parramatta and Blacktown have a large number of Indian Australian families. “Singh” was the most common surname in Blacktown a few years ago. Strathfield and some area in South West Sydney in/around Liverpool also have a significant Indian Australian presence.
No party can ignore this community anymore. This fact is now well known and is evident from the efforts by both major parties to work with our community over the last 5 years. ALP had formed a group from our community in 2010, calling it Subcontinent Friends of Labor (SCFOL) and Liberals networked with this community, forming Liberal friends of India (LFI) around 2011-12. Both parties, when in government, have worked to develop better relations with India. While Prime Minister, John Howard (the Coalition) was the one who decided to sell Uranium to India in 2007, it was Prime Minister Julia Gillard (ALP) who managed to reverse ALP’s opposition to Uranium sale to India in 2012, despite India’s refusal to sign Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). Both parties have made active efforts to network with Indian Australians too. It is an undeniable fact that none of the major parties can ignore Indian Australians in Western Sydney if they want to win these seats.
With my interactions with Indian Australians, it is clear to me that reaching out by political parties plays a significant role during elections, even though the issues in NSW are not different for us when compared with those for the general community. Our voting behaviour should generally be similar to the general community, but networking by political parties and outreach by their apparatus and operatives can play an important role. Having said that, I think it would be prudent to make a comment or two here about the efforts by political parties to develop better relations with our community.
ALP started the process of active networking with our community by forming SCFOL Unfortunately, the group was led, and continues to be led, poorly. They controlled and continue to control, some of the community associations, which, unsurprisingly, damaged these associations. Nobody listens to these community associations today and these associations are irrelevant for our community. SCFOL was not inclusive and left out many prominent ALP members from our community, as a manifestation of Right Vs Left factional politics. Its first president did not appear to have a good understanding of Indian community. He came from a Union background and ran a smear campaign against many people just because he did not like them, had disagreement with them or those people did not agree with his style and brand of politics. Division, not inclusion, was his “Mantra” to serve his factional interests. It is beyond me why a group of Indian ALP members will run a vicious campaign against one of the Indian sub-continental persons (Susai Benjamin) from the same party. Obviously, it was an outcome of Right Vs Left ALP factional politics. Treachery and disloyalty are generally a part and parcel of political parties. I was not surprised therefore to know that the founder president was removed recently, and quite acrimoniously, leading to hostility and animosity between key members of the group. The new president of SCFOL, in my view, does not have the necessary ability or capacity to lead effectively. He is a light weight figure, when compared to former SCFOL president, as far as ALP connections are concerned. No surprise to see that the new president and few other equally ineffective leaders of SCFOL did not get any importance during Bill Shorten’s recent visit to Revesby Gurdwara, while the ex-president had the ears and eyes of the federal leader. Whether you like him or not, he (ex-president) was, in my view, more networked and effective as the SCFOL leader. SCFOL needs to be reviewed and revamped.
Liberals had shown their interests in developing good networking with Indian Australians a few years ago, but, later, appeared to have lost interest in such networking. During the O’Farrell Government time, only one person was taken as the Indian community, solely because he was a personal friend of the Premier. Everybody else was ignored. Sadly, this particular person never had any networking with Indian community. Currently, Liberal ministers seems to think that a marketing woman from Indian community, who has charmed her way into the Liberal network, is the key person for the networking with Indian community. Liberals are either naïve or they don’t care, if they believe this to be the case. Little do they understand that her key focus is her business interests, just like she did with ALP ministers. Federal and state Liberal leaders used to be seen in Indian community events, but this seems to have become less frequent. One pleasant thing however is that some from amongst our community with high-sounding but false positions after their names, and without matching credentials, are not in the inner network of Liberals anymore. It’s a big relief. These people are only for themselves and with their ugly antics, causing shame to themselves and our community. They were using photographs with high profile Liberal politicians to promote their business interests in fleecing money from gullible people. What is needed is the revamping and strengthening of LFI. Like SCFOL, it must be supported by key government ministers and Party officials, if it were ever to get traction in the community. Its key members from our community should be those who have good networking and are decent people, not those who are into exploitation and fleecing of the vulnerable people of our community. Those who sold work experience certificates, arranged fake marriages or arrange or sell 457 visa in return for cash should be kept away from LFI. In contrast to SCFOL, I haven’t heard much about LFI for some considerable time. I am not sure if it is still active. Obviously, LFI should become more active, and visible, if Liberals are keen for the votes and support from our community. It is in their interest to do so if they want to change the current 60:40 voting pattern against Liberal party, and in favour of ALP, as far as our votes are concerned. Improving the networking with our community is a no-brainer.
If I have an advice for ALP and the Coalition, and they listen to it, I will advise them to revamp these groups and go beyond SCFOL and LFI to network with our community. SCFOL and LFI represent a minuscule part of the community. After all, both of them need to have a large and productive network in the community to influence voting behaviour in their favour.
We, as a community, need to do a lot more to be a significant player in politics and political processes of Australia. We must work together in getting some, albeit only good ones, from our community in the local Councils and Parliaments. They must not be those who are into unethical, and illegal, activities like underpaying employees, taking or arranging 457 visa in return for cash or selling work experience for visa purposes. Such people are obviously so keen to be photographed with politicians, simply because it helps their business models and scares the victims from putting complaints. Political leaders must stay away from them and push them away into garbage bins, where they justifiably belong. It’s undeniable that we need to join political parties. Our numbers in Western Sydney are our strength and similarly our numbers in political parties will be our strength as well. One thing more. We must ensure that only good people from amongst us are supported for these roles in politics. Nobody with sub-standard qualities and ethics is encouraged. We don’t need Indian style politics in Australia. We will need to be careful, proactive and determined to not allow undesirable people with poor value system to succeed in their pursuit of selfish interests.
Finally, our support and votes for any party or candidate must be based on policies, principles and quality of the leadership. We must not allow anyone to fool us. Our votes should never be for someone who is not deserving of our votes.