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.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s