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As new migrants settle down, they are affected by the various political and social policies around them. And we do have an option to have our voices heard, through the ballot box
There are over 450,000 people of Indian origin in Australia. As of 31 March, 2016, there were 15,468,329 electors enrolled with the Australian Electoral Commission. Now, if a majority of Indian-Australians were able to and did take up their voting rights, that would be just under 3 per cent of the voting population. Admittedly, there will be a number of Indian-Australians below 18; those on short-term visas who are not eligible to vote, and those who, despite being Australian residents for a number of years, have chosen not to take up Australian citizenship.
To become an Australian citizen, one needs to surrender one’s Indian citizenship, because India and Australia do not have a dual citizenship agreement. There has been active debate about this, but by all accounts, the prospect of dual citizenship for Indian-Australians is still a bridge too far. For some, the emotional connect with the home country is so strong that they are loathe to give up their Indian citizenship, and that is their right and privilege.
But then the true cost is their lack of participation in the affairs of their new home. As new migrants settle down, they are affected by the various political and social policies around them. These policies may impact on the education of their children, healthcare of their parents, the options for affordable housing, the ease in allowing parents and loved ones to migrate to Australia, increasing incentives to do business in Australia, or to create a more welcoming Australia for migrants. All of these are issues that touch on our lives here.
The truth is, we do have an option to have our voice heard, through the ballot box. In a country like Australia, where the margin of success for political leaders and parties can often be a few thousand votes, every vote counts.
Interestingly, a large number of Indian-Australians in Sydney live in marginal seats such as those of Parramatta and Greenway. In the last federal election, Labor’s Michelle Rowland won Greenway by just over 5,000 votes – this in an area where it is often said, there are more Singhs in the phone book than Browns.
Over in Parramatta, the sitting member, Labor’s Julie Owens, won by just 915 votes. This is an area where, according to the 2011 Census profile, there have been major demographic changes in recent years – it has the nation’s fourth largest population of residents born overseas (48.5%) and also the fourth largest population born in a non-English speaking country (44.2%). Indians and India will figure very highly here.
Though this election, in spite of what the polls are saying, is not expected to go down to the wire, the marginal seats will play an important role. In a significant way, the Indian-Australian community can contribute back to the system with their ability to vote.
For those who are too late to get on to the electoral rolls, it’s perhaps something to consider in the future. For those who will be marking the ballot paper on 2 July, this will be a good time to engage with the policies of the parties – both major and fringe – and think about the kind of Australia you want to live in and where your families can grow and prosper. Your vote will make a difference.