As Australia’s 2019 federal election grows ever closer, the issues that voters care about are becoming increasingly clear, and important. The Banks electorate in Sydney’s South West has one of the highest immigrant populations in the nation, and yet its current member is the Liberal Government’s Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs himself; David Coleman. How did such an ethnic community come to elect a conservative Immigration minister as their member? And will this year’s election see a similar result?
Before the 2013 Australian federal election, the Banks electorate had voted Labor since 1949.
After more than 50 years, the people of Banks elected David Coleman as the area’s first Liberal member, and did so again in the 2016 election. In 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made him his Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs.
Banks was one of only three seats lost by Labor in 2016 with a large immigrant population. In an electorate that is home to more than 30,000 Chinese, 8,000 Arabic and 7,000 Greek individuals, immigration is something that has played a very important role in the electorate’s history.
Considering the fact that immigration has been such a significant government issue in recent months, particularly as an aspect of various parties’ election campaigns, Banks voters will have much to consider when deciding on their vote in May.
In fact, the current Labor member opposing Coleman in the 2019 election for Banks is Chris Gambian, the son of two South-Indian immigrants who has grown up in Australia and is now running for government in the party of which he has been a member since the age of 15.
Gambian says that his perspective as a child of migrants plays an important role in his ability to represent his electorate, as well as his potential role in Australia’s government.
“Everyone brings a different lens to political life, and the perspective of people that have come who are the children of migrants, or migrants themselves, is different,” he says. “It’s a perspective we don’t have that much of in Parliament, particularly non–European immigration”,
“It appears to be meaningful to people who are themselves migrants or children of migrants that I am a candidate … if that can help those people feel more like they are part of the Australian story then that, for me, is a win”.
The Liberal government’s policy towards immigration going into the 2019 election includes the reduction of the current migration ceiling from 190,000 to 160,000 places. Furthermore, the introduction of new regional visas allowing 23,000 places for skilled workers who settle outside of big cities is a decision with which Banks’ member, Coleman, has been heavily involved.
Speaking in a press conference, he said that policies like these under the Liberal government have made a positive impact on the nation’s economy, and are the best ones for its future. He describes the previous government’s policies concerning the same issues as “a human catastrophe”.
“This is about focusing on needs around the country and seeking to ensure that our migration programme is matched to those needs and doesn’t impose one solution across the entire nation,” he said. “It’s our government who got the kids out of offshore detention … and we continue to maintain a strong policy of offshore processing”.
“We have one of the most generous humanitarian programs in the world. That’s a very good thing. And it must be carefully managed. We must never, ever allow a situation to occur such as we saw under the previous Government”.
Gambian, however, says that the reduction of the number of migrants allowed in Australia is “a fairly disingenuous attempt to play to people’s worst prejudices”.
“This country was built on immigration,” he says. “We’re all immigrants at some point. I find it completely frustrating and quite offensive when people think that they, without any expertise, without any analysis, can say that 200,000 is too many [to let in], but 100,000 is right”.
“There is not one Australia, there are 25 million different stories, and some people’s experiences are just different to [those] of someone whose family has lived here for four or five generations”.
Regardless, it is the voters who are truly responsible for deciding whose policies deserve election, and though it was for so long evident that they were supportive of Labor’s immigration laws, citizens of Banks have apparently changed their minds.
Sinead is a young voter living in the Banks suburb of Hurstville, and says that many immigrants in the area in fact favour the Liberal Government’s policies concerning immigration.
“Liberal made immigration [seem] like this big crisis so a lot of people jumped on that,” she says. “There’s a big divide in this area because you have a lot of people who migrated here in the sixties and seventies and they are very against immigration now… which is pretty ridiculous considering that this whole country is built on migrants”.
Holly, who also lives and votes in the area and is a child of two immigrants, says that the Liberal government, and Coleman himself, represent “some sort of stability” for the older generation, which is one explanation for the support for the Immigration Minister and his campaign.
“People in Hurstville are not just immigrants who are working-class anymore … [they] find that with Liberal, there is some sort of stability,” she says.
“My parents’ generation are starting to think that a more conservative approach to immigration would be better although they were immigrants not even 25 years ago”.
Banks remains a very marginal seat in the upcoming election, and so opinions on issues such as immigration will prove to be invaluable to both Coleman and Gambian in their respective campaigns.
As for others, we asked some people living in Hurstville what kinds of issues will influence their vote in May.
“I always follow my favour from before, and I always follow Labor… [they] are good for our economy”Richard, 53
“I don’t know a lot about politics, but I am in favour of voting for Liberal, because I am just a bit frightened about the taxes and things that might happen when Labor get in; I’m an aged pensioner, so that’s my worry; that we’re going to be cut back on facilities”June, 67
“I feel like the environmental issues [are important]; I feel like nobody is really caring much about it, because everyone is voting for Liberal mainly, and I feel like the whole environment is kind of being looked over, and I just think that’s a really important issue that we should be looking at”Joy, 25
“Economy [is most important to me] because recently the economy is really, really bad. I [work in] retail, and you can see it’s really down and down lately, and getting worse. I’m not absolutely sure [which party I will vote for], but I think generally, Liberal is doing a better job than Labor.Helen, 47
“Because I am from a foreign country… for me, some policy about students from other countries, maybe some good policy for us to get a good education, and health care”Jingyue, 20