Reading Time: 8 minutesMainstream candidates come out to woo the Indian segments of their electorates
The Indian vote-bank is becoming increasingly important in federal as well as state elections. The candidates in the upcoming NSW elections have been going out of their way to reach out to Indian-origin voters in their local areas, with the saris and bindis and sherwanis getting a good airing in recent weeks.
To know more about their policies and backgrounds, Indian Link spoke with candidates in electorates that large numbers of Indian-origin voters call home.
Mark Taylor is the Liberal candidate for Seven Hills which has a growing Indian population. As new migrants settle down, they normally move from their initial place of arrival around the Parramatta/Harris Park area to the adjoining suburb of Seven Hills. In the recent redistribution of electoral boundaries, Seven Hills has been carved out from Toongabbie, Labor’s most marginal seat. But in this redistribution, Labor strongholds in the west have been transferred into Blacktown and Prospect. In the reverse, the Liberal strongholds of Winston Hills and Northmead have been transferred into the Baulkham Hills electorate. This, according to electoral rolls, has transformed Toongabbie’s Labor margin of 0.3% into an estimated Liberal margin of 8.8% for Seven Hills.
Speaking with Indian Link, Mark spoke passionately about the work which his leader Mike Baird is doing for NSW. “I have been up from early in the morning and talking to as many people as I can about the very positive policies of the Baird government. We are focussing on building better infrastructure for our state and investing in the community. Look at Seven Hills railway station: it has not been touched for 40 years. We need to add better facilities around the area,” he said.
On the major issue of losing control of public assets, Mark Taylor is firm in his rebuke of the Labor Party. “We are leasing 49 per cent of the poles and wires. NSW will have ownership of 51 per cent and the assets will still be in public hands. Labor accumulated debt to fund assets – we need to source funds in a clever manner and ensure we retain our AAA rating,” he said.
For the local Indian community, Mark is indeed lucky to have the same name as an iconic Aussie cricketer, a moniker which most Indian cricket lovers are familiar with.
“It does give me an advantage,” he laughed. “It’s a great ice breaker and yes, I have signed a few autographs!”
Not far from Mark’s hunting grounds is the seat of Parramatta. The electorate covers parts of Parramatta City Council east from Parramatta Park and north of the M4, as well as parts of The Hills Shire along Pennant Hills Road. It includes Parramatta and the suburbs of Dundas, Oatlands, Dundas Valley, Telopea, Ermington, Rydalmere, Harris Park, North Parramatta and parts of Carlingford and North Rocks. According to ABC election analyst Antony Green, the Liberal margin is an estimated 12.5%.
When the Liberal party, led by Barry O’Farrell, won the elections in 2011, the then Premier singled out the success story of Geoff Lee as the winning candidate from Parramatta. Parramatta was held by Labor from 1959 to 2011 with the exception of a single term when the Liberal Party’s John Books was elected in 1988. Over the past three years, Geoff Lee has been a regular attendee at all Indian functions and celebrations, so much so that when the Indian Prime Minister Modi was introduced to a number of politicians on stage at the All Phones arena in November last year, the largest applause was for Geoff Lee from the 17,000 plus Indian Australians.
When I reminded him of this, Geoff Lee laughed. “It was a very humbling experience to be on the same stage as PM Modi. I am so grateful for the support shown to me by the Indian community in the Parramatta area.”
Geoff is keen to stress again the need to bring in more capital to improve NSW. “We cannot take on more debt. Remember, not only do we have to pay it back, we also need to service it. Leasing the poles and wires is the most sensible thing to do,” he stated.
When I questioned him about housing affordability in his electorate, he again brought the argument back to better governance under the Liberal party.
“In Labor’s last term of government, they only released 23,000 home approvals,” he revealed. “We have released 55,000 under our term. We just need to build more homes.”
Also contesting the seat of Parramatta is Independent Michelle Garrard. A federal government employee for 13 years, both Michelle and her father Paul Gerrard, a Parramatta City Councillor for 40 years with five terms as Mayor and who himself is now contesting the adjacent seat of Auburn, make an interesting father-daughter combination in the election foray.
“As an ‘Our Local Community’ representative, I’ve already worked closely within the Indian community, for example the wonderful ‘Parramasala’ Festival in Parramatta annually,” Michelle told Indian Link. “Going simply by the wonderful array of food which we now experience in Parramatta, I think this community has done more for me than I have for them. Parramatta is a multicultural community and it reflects the contribution made by a large Indian community. I’ve grown up within that community and have an appreciation of their cultural contribution.”
She added, “Though I am standing as an Independent, I am confident that the community is not afraid of Independents, as, for example, the NSW upper house has been controlled by Independents for many years and the roof hasn’t fallen in.”
Independent candidate for Auburn, Paul Garrard confirmed that he and Michelle have formed a new political party ‘Our Local Community’.
“We are both members of that Party and we are pushing our policies and the name out there within the community of Auburn and Parramatta,” he said.
Paul is critical of NSW Labor leader Luke Foley who is also contesting the seat of Auburn.
“Luke Foley represents more of the ‘same’ which has already created concerns in Auburn,” he observed. “He has been ‘parachuted’ into an area for the sake of a seat in Parliament. Being local doesn’t concern the ALP anymore.”
His own credentials are far more convincing, he pointed out.
“I’ve been educated in Auburn, played soccer in Auburn and presently play tennis in Auburn. While Auburn remains a ‘safe’ ALP seat, then innovation and initiative will not surface. I maintain that my intervention will, at the very least, ensure that Auburn becomes a marginal seat and that will make everyone fight harder for the community’s support.”
Talking about Labor policies in a more favourable light is Matt Ritchie, who is contesting the safe Liberal seat of Castle Hill. Ritchie has worked for 28 years in financial services, listing his expertise as insurance sales and business protection. His battle ground covers most of Castle Hill along with Glenhaven, Kellyville, Beaumont Hills and Rouse Hill. A David and Goliath battle, where Matt needs a swing of over 30% to win the seat, he is nevertheless happy to stay strong on Labor policies and explain his message in this blue ribbon seat. He feels that there is genuine concern about privatisation and people are worried about electricity prices and service reliability.
“In my meetings with the local community, they have expressed serious doubts about the privatisation of TAFE and other critical services,” Matt said. “After all, in Castle Hill there are significant numbers of people who relied on TAFE to get their trade and other qualifications. They are now wondering whether these facilities will exist for their children, and if they do, how much they will cost.”
For over a century, he emphasised, the ALP has proven itself time and again to be the party that represents the true Australian values of Egalitarianism, Generosity and Opportunity for all.
“A functioning democracy needs a party of social responsibility to represent those that wouldn’t otherwise have a voice. A party that fights to ensure that our health, education, industrial and infrastructure systems are world class, accessible and fair.”
In the Ryde electorate, current NSW Minister for Multicultural Affairs Victor Dominello is recontesting his safe Liberal seat. With a winning margin of over 35% in the 2011 elections, Victor has worked hard in his portfolio and has many loyal friends in the multicultural arena.
“I am extremely pleased with what we have delivered to the state of NSW,” he told Indian Link. “As Minister in charge of delivering multicultural and Indigenous policies, we moved from the name of Ethnic Affairs Council to where we are now as Multicultural NSW. This shows our diversity.”
Among his many achievements as a Minister, Victor Dominello is proud of the growth in community language funding and the investment the government has made in helping the Aboriginal languages which are dying to be maintained.
“We are also proud of the introduction of the Premier’s Harmony Dinner as part of Multicultural March. Four years ago about 400 people attended, this year the turnout was about 1,400 which is a strong endorsement of the bond between the government and multicultural NSW,” he added.
When questioned about the Lindt café siege, he reflected that while this was one of our darkest hours, it also was amazing to note how the community rallied together in the aftermath, with the floral tribute in Martin Place and the ‘I’ll Ride With You’ campaign.
Challenging him on the issue of disenfranchised youth and the radicalisation of young people, he stressed the solution was to engage them with opportunities of good jobs and strong mentors and role models. Building on this theme of jobs, he reiterated that the Baird plan was to invest more in NSW and create over 100,000 employment opportunities.
He urged the Indian community to be more engaged in politics. “Democracy is a wonderful thing,” he said. “And it is terrific that Indians in NSW appreciate that.”
Matt Kean is another active member of the current Baird government who engages extensively with the Indian community in the Hornsby constituency. Kean is estimated to be ahead of his closest competitor by nearly 26%. An A-grade cricketer in his pre-politician days and now a self-confessed cricket tragic, Kean has found many levels to engage with the Indian community.
“The Indian community in NSW is a strong vibrant community and I admire their ethics of hard work and desire for higher learning,” he said. “I strongly believe that the Baird plan of building more infrastructure will allow new Australians to enjoy greater opportunities.”
And Matt Kean’s pick in the World Cup cricket?
“Well, Australia is my preferred pick but close second is India,” he revealed. “What a wonderful treat for all of us if it is an Australia-India final!”
Amen to that!
Know your local candidate
Reading Time: 8 minutesMainstream candidates come out to woo the Indian segments of their electorates