How will Sydney’s ethnic groups vote in the NSW State election, and what difference will it make?

A provocation

The key electorates that most likely will determine the NSW election lie in a cluster through the centre and west of Sydney. This piece deals with two of the electorates (Kogarah and East Hills the closest for each of the major parties) but readers can do their own arithmetic in seats in which they are interested. The ABS provides good summaries for all state electorates based on the 2021 Census. I will do a wider post-mortem next week.

If we look at elections where ethnicity has been salient, they have certain features. Governments are on the nose due to corruption, and their leaders carry the opprobrium of corruption and racism. Rather than moral leaning and personal self interest framing voters’ decisions, they have been elections where voters have been personally angry about issues and behaviours that have made them personally uneasy. This election is being held in the wake of COVID, when lock-downs, surveillance and harassment were widely active in western Sydney. Values triggered there include opposition to vaccination, frustration with job loss and financial stress.

Taking these factors into account I think that the ALP will have a more difficult time than often predicted in winning enough seats to form even a coalition government, especially in the optional preferential environment where protest votes that might have tended back to Labor may well dissipate. With an anti-vax and anti-lockdown group running, and One Nation and other conservative groups looking to play to conservative anxieties, the dissipation of votes in many ethnic communities may be quite high. Also Perrottet was the politician who adopted the most anti-vax position from the outset and argued most strongly against COVID control measures (business closures, social distancing, mask wearing}. He was the closest Australian politician to UK prime minister Boris Johnson with his let-‘em-rip approach.

In this context I want to look at two ancestry groups. Usually they need very strong reasons to activate their concerns about racial marginalisation. The Census provides a raft of characteristics to help us understand cultural diversity. These include Ancestry, country of birth, parents’ country of birth and language spoken at home.

In Kogarah, ALP leader Chris Minns holds the seat by a whisker. In 2021 the seat had 71.5% of households where a non-English language was spoken, with 25% either Mandarin or Cantonese. While Nepali and Greek speakers are also significant, the Chinese community, if it acts in one mind,  will decide the outcome. After some difficulty in finding a candidate the Liberals chose Craig Chung, a moderately well-known business figure in the Chinese community. The Chinese communities have no particular reason to hate Perrottet – as they did when they helped knock off John Howard in Bennelong in 2007, and Morrison everywhere in 2022. While the bend towards conservatism among the Chinese may be offset slightly by a more ALP tendency among Nepalis, the Orthodox and Catholic members of the Greek and Lebanese communities were amongst those who voted against same-sex marriage back in 2017. While there is no Christian bloc candidate, Perrottet is also a safe bet. Also Minns has been leading his state campaign elsewhere, leaving Kogarah fairly open for Chung to appear everywhere, including doing Chinese community radio. Independent Troy Stolz, running on an anti-pokies platform, may also draw votes away from Minns.

Some of these same factors operate in East Hills, a nearby Liberal electorate held by Wendy Lindsay and being contested by Kylie Wilkinson for Labor; the women have similar profiles as active local community participants. A classic multicultural electorate that spreads from Bankstown through Panania to Revesby, 50% of residents use a language other than English. The main ethnic groups include Lebanese, contributing to the 13.6% the population who espouse Islam, and 12.9% who use Arabic at home. Chinese and Vietnamese speakers make up about 7% each. It is also a religious electorate, with less than 20% claiming no religion (Australia is 38%), while 25% are Catholic and 8.2% Eastern Orthodox; again. This suggests an attraction towards the more socially conservative views of a Perrottet-led government.

Based on previous elections and voting tendencies, I would not be surprised if Wendy Lindsay retained her seat, while Craig Chung becomes the new member for Kogarah. Labor could still become the government, but it would be as a minority and perhaps without Chris Minns in the driving seat. However as the pundits have noted, with a multitude of parties and candidates, and dissipated preferences, anything could happen.


Why Harmony Day is a con… and what about Australian racism it is trying to hide.

ABC Story link

Harmony Day a ‘con job’ to avoid talking about racism

Andrew Jakubowicz, a professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney, describes Harmony Day as a “con job” designed to avoid addressing questions about racism.

“It’s all about making people feel that there’s really no problem with people who are different from them, and if you share food from different countries and you dress up in different clothes and everyone sings and dances, then the whole problem of racism disappears,” Professor Jakubowicz said.

“In terms of addressing the causes and processes through which racism is reinforced, it set that back dramatically.

“If you can’t talk about what is actually going on, and address the dynamics that are actually occurring, then you are guaranteeing that they will continue to be problematic and cause deeper and deeper hurt and destructiveness in Australian society.”

Professor Jakubowicz spent 15 years trying to get his hands on the secretive research, commissioned by the Howard government following the Coalition’s 1996 election win, which formed the basis for the launch of Harmony Day.

He says then-opposition leader John Howard opposed the Keating government’s plan to criminalise hate speech, and committed a Liberal government to establishing an “education campaign” instead.

Let’s talk about racism this Harmony Day

The United Nations marks March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, but we celebrate it as Harmony Day, writes Erwin Renaldi.

Colour photograph of women with heritage from Africa and Asia at a multicultural fashion festival in Tasmania

Read more

“Howard won the election and, soon after that, began the process of trying to work out what to do with his promise,” Professor Jakubowicz said.

Against the backdrop of a growing One Nation and a push against political correctness, the Howard government commissioned surveys into race and racism.

“What they came up with was something that shouldn’t have surprised them but worried the researchers, and it definitely spooked the government,” he said.

Professor Jakubowicz says the study found “racism in general was quite widespread in the Australian community, particularly against Indigenous people, but also against immigrants”, but there was “antipathy” towards addressing the problem.

“In the research, the researchers came across this notion that the only term that they could get a majority support for in qualitative and quantitative research was that people supported the idea of a harmonious society,” he said.

“The harmonious society depended on other people not behaving in ways that made me, you, I, discomforted.

“That’s where Harmony Day came from.”


The Degradation of Data in Multicultural Australia

The Degradation of Data: why Australia knows so little about its multicultural realities

Submission to the Multicultural Framework Review Draft Terms of Reference.

Andrew Jakubowicz PhD FRSN FASSA

Emeritus Professor of Sociology
University of Technology Sydney

Consultant Sociologist

3 March 2023


As the Draft Terms make clear, it has been many years since Australia’s institutional capabilities in relation to multicultural policy have been reassessed. The Framework Review is thus a welcome initiative. As a scholar of and participant in the development of multicultural Australia since the 1970s (initially as a member of the NSW Migrant Task Force reporting to Immigration Minister Grassby) I recognise that there are many issues that will need to be addressed. However not all of these have been identified in the draft Terms of Reference, most importantly the critical role that will be played by evidence-based policy which depends on well-considered structures of data collection, analysis and application which is totally missing leaving the Terms seriously flawed.

Current Challenges in the Data field

Over the past three years as the COVID pandemic has affected Australian society, it has become clear that the knowledge base associated with multiculturalism is seriously degraded and operating with declining effectiveness; scholars in the field have long known this, identifying its inception to the closure in 1996/97 by the incoming Howard government of all the key knowledge and policy institutions created out of the 1978 Galbally review (eg Office for Multicultural Affairs, Bureau of Immigration, Population and Multicultural Research).

My comments are derived from my history of research while an academic, and my recent professional engagements as:

  • Member Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing advisory group on COVID and CaLD communities (especially Data working group)
  • Analyst Vaccination Task Force, Commonwealth Dept of Health and Ageing
  • Senior Advisor Cultural and Linguistic Diversity, Royal Commission on Disability
  • Lead consultant Waverley Council (NSW) Cultural Diversity Policy and Plan
  • Consultant Sydney Migrant Services:  Report on Multiculturalism and the Community: looking back and looking forward
  • Author on politics of multicultural communities The Conversation (475000 reads)

There are at least four reasons for this failure in relation to Knowledge Data and Evidence that are apparent to me as a sociologist concerned with this issue. I submit that these dimensions should be addressed as part of the terms of reference.

  1. The concept of Cultural and Linguistic Diversity (CaLD) has underpinned data collection policies of Australian governments since 1999. It was designed to replace the term “non-English speaking background” which had become common after the ABS retired the concept of “Race” after the 1966 Census.  In detail,  CaLD requires four different criteria in its simplest form – born overseas in a non-English speaking country, speaking a language other than English at home, level of proficiency in English, and Australian Indigenous status. However it is rarely applied in totality leading to many mistakes in policy and practice – for instance the NDIA only discovered in September 2021 that its CaLD data included about 20% of people who were Australian indigenous language speakers and who were double counted.  Moreover the emphasis on intersectionality identified in many recent government policy papers appears totally missing from the Terms of Reference.

  2. The Racialisation of Australian policy language in the wake of Black Lives Matter has revealed other data problems. The current Terms document talks of “second generation plus migrants”, which is extremely confusing in its application, let alone what assumed model of society underpins it. It may refer to ongoing racist responses in society to inherited physiognomy, or the continuation of cultural practices brought by the migrant generation which are sustained by their descendants (eg dance, dress, language or religion), or contradictory identities experienced by descendants of immigrants, or many other possibilities. Recently the Diversity Council of Australia has promoted the idea of cultural and racial marginalisation, abandoning linguistic diversity as an issue (or implying it is included in culture where relevant). Unlike other comparable societies, Australia has no data marker for race, a consequence of a decision after signing on to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racism in 1966 to accept the UNESCO directive to remove “race” as a social descriptor. “Australia uses “racism” in many contexts but it has never been defined, not even in the Racial Discrimination Act. The Review should address and seek to resolve this issue.

  3. Governments are apparently apprehensive about what the data would show in relation to inequities in the health and other social systems; they have no communication strategy to manage their fears and so lock down even the collection of “dangerous” data. Throughout the COVID pandemic, governments have been reluctant to use the CaLD core data points in assessing the testing, infection, morbidity and mortality of the virus on communities. Mortality data are only available far after the date on which the deaths occurred yet even so have revealed massive inequities with high multiples of deaths among first generation migrants compared to the general population. Fierce resistance by the NSW government to collecting data on language spoken by people being tested resulted in much greater infection and morbidity than might otherwise have been the case, despite pilot work in Victoria demonstrating the effectiveness of using this data to identify priority groups for contact who had low testing numbers. The dynamics of this problem, replicated in all states except Victoria (though not used, thus having the same negative outcomes) and recognised and implemented by the Commonwealth only late in the day, was revealed by the extraordinary progress made once vaccination started and the vaccination data could be enhanced by correlations with the CaLD data in the 2016 Census under the MADIP program. The AIHW used a similar approach in its latest report on chronic illnesses and CaLD health. This situation of government data hesitancy should be a matter of priority for the Review as it is the best documented expression of the degradation of data and the conscious refusal by government to collect and use data that would have had major health benefits to Australia’s multicultural communities. The situation continues, with COVID deaths currently heavily concentrated in migrant elderly cohorts, without public recognition or apparent government concern.

    4. While the Review purports to reference a national multicultural framework, it does not identify the roles of state, territory and local government as requiring specific attention. The data problem is magnified by the different attention and interest of these many spheres of government in ensuring the effective collection and application of data, and their orientation to the empowerment of multicultural communities in the conversations with government and their agencies. Having seen first-hand what the confusion, tension and impact of these un-coordinated spheres has proven to be, with destructive consequences for the well-being of communities, especially their most vulnerable members, it is imperative that the Review identify, explore and address these issues.

Summary of additional proposed inclusions

The Terms unfortunately contain confusing and limited perspectives on the issues that should be addressed. In our 2013 chapter in “For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas…: Australian Multicultural Theory, Policy and Practice” on the still outstanding issues in multicultural Australia, Assoc Prof Chris Ho and I identified three broad issues –
·       the need for a reinvigorated and systematic Research framework and network to improve evidence, data and build deeper and inclusive knowledge,
·       a process that deals with Representation in its two meanings of political voice and socio-cultural presence, and
·       Recognition of the multicultural realities through legislative and institutional reform, including engagement with intersectionality (gender, age, sexuality, disability, social class, locality) .

The current Terms reflect some of the second two ideas, though in a far too limited and confusing way.  No reference to Research, data or evidence- based policy appears in discussion or  in the Draft Terms. While there has been a hint in pre-Election statements by the minister that this Data issue might be addressed in a separate exercise, without this Term being incorporated into the heartland of the review process, the Framework Review will most probably fail the Australian people.




Andrew Jakubowicz BA PhD FRSN FASSA

Emeritus Professor

School of Communication
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
University of Technology Sydney
PO Box 123
Broadway NSW 2007
+61(0) 419801102
S: @ajakubow
Recent book: Cyber Racism and Community Resilience
Blog: Andrew Jakubowicz Sociologist
Blog: On The Conversation
W: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu
W: Making Multicultural Australia