China has exploded as a by-election issue in Bennelong.
How much will it affect Saturday’s result? IDENTITY Communications reckons it’s more nuanced than the current commentary.
The Liberal Party could suffer in Bennelong as a result of the Turnbull government’s “anti-Chinese” rhetoric over the Sam Dastyari donations scandal according to Australia’s first Chinese-born parliamentarian, Helen Sham-Ho. “I think (Chinese-born voters) think the government is anti-Chinese at this point in time.” she argues on ABC Radio.
By “anti-Chinese” Ms Sham-Ho means “anti-China”. China-born residents make up a large percentage of Chinese speakers in the electorate. However, there is also a significant number of people from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Taiwan as well as second generation Chinese speaking Australians. Source: 2016 ABS Census.
While the perceived anti-China rhetoric may impact voters born in China, arguably, it’s of less interest to those born in Australia, with lesser ties to China. China’s relationship with Hong Kong is still rocky, anti-China sentiment runs strong in some quarters. Taiwan’s relationship with China is complex at best. Arguably, standing up to China might not be such as bad thing for these groups.
What about other migrant groups in Bennelong?
China-born residents are the second largest birth place in the electorate (after Australia-born). There’s a significant gap in size to the next group, residents born in South Korea.
The relationship between these two countries was deeply damaged last July when Seoul agreed to install the US-owned Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense platform on its land. That led to boycott of Korean products in China. Hyundai Elantra, China’s fourth top selling car in 2016, dropped to number 18 so far in 2017. The dispute between China and South Korea over THAAD is only starting to cool.
The recent China-India border dispute played out in Australia with Chinese students at Sydney University protesting against the use of an outdated map depicting the border of China and India. A week earlier, members of the local Chinese community used 70th India’s Independence Day to highlight the border dispute by driving their flashy supercars around Sydney. The last stop of the drive by protest was the Consulate General of India in Sydney (image above courtesy of Sydney Today). Arguably, Indian-born voters in Bennelong might welcome a more assertive Australian stance in relation to China.
Of course, all this talk about homeland politics ignore the role of bread and butter local issues such as health, education, national security, etc. For migrants who come to Australia seeking a better life for themselves and their children, these issues also rank.
Regardless of whether John Alexander or Kristina Keneally wins on Saturday, the issues in Bennelong are more complex than perceived pro or anti-China rhetoric, and who stays and who resigns.
As pointed out by Robert Simons, when you take into account Australian Citizenship, the above numbers may change. As there has been a dramatic increase in number of arrivals from China in recent years, this could potentially reduce the number of eligible voters born in China.