The seat of Bruce in Melbourne’s south east is home to a large number of Indian-origin voters. Indian Link speaks with Labor and Liberal candidates Alan Griffin and Emanuele Cicchiello respectively, on issues relating to the local area, the Indian community, and Australia’s relations with India
Preeti Jabbal: What are the two current issues that you will commit to advocate if you were to win?
Emanuele Cicchiello: As an active community member and parent, I know that the daily issues affecting people in Bruce stem from cost of living pressures. Local families and businesses are struggling to keep with up with their rising electricity, gas and other utility bills. As part of a united Coalition team, I will immediately scrap the carbon tax to help alleviate these cost of living pressures and work hard to restore confidence to the Australian economy to support businesses and improve job security.
Local residents are also concerned about public safety and I have been fighting on their behalf to secure funding for crime prevention initiatives, such as CCTV cameras and security lighting. I recently announced that a Coalition Government would provide $400,000 for CCTV cameras to be installed in crime hotspots across Dandenong, and I will continue to work closely with the community and local police to deliver further initiatives to make Bruce a safer place to live and work.
Alan Griffin: There are many issues that relate to both Bruce and the broader Australian community. Two that I believe are of great importance both locally and nationally are Labor’s Better Schools Plan and the National Broadband Network. Our Better Schools Plan will ensure we lift our school standards and give our children the chance to realize their full potential, which will help Australia remain a strong and prosperous economy. The NBN is an investment in Australia’s future. It will help our economy to remain strong by maximizing our potential in education, health care and business.
PJ: What are your thoughts on the East West Road link that is expected to boost the Greater Dandenong community?
EC: Building the missing link in Melbourne’s road network is a priority for Tony Abbott and his team. The Federal Coalition has pledged $1.5 billion to construction of the East-West Link to give commuters more time at home with their families and to boost productivity across the state. Families and businesses here in Bruce are tired of losing precious hours stuck in traffic. This landmark road project will clear traffic bottlenecks and get Melbourne moving again, but it will only become a reality under a Coalition Government.
AG: I believe that the best way to keep Melbourne moving involves investment in both its road AND rail infrastructure. Federal Labor has allocated $3 billion to build the Melbourne Metro rail project, which has been properly costed and recommended for funding by Infrastructure Australia. We will not be writing a blank cheque for the East West tunnel because we have yet to see a proper business case for it. There is a proper assessment process in place for such projects before any funding decisions are made. Greater Dandenong can’t afford a return to an unbalanced, ‘roads only’ approach that would result in more gridlock and congestion under Mr Abbott. He simply doesn’t believe in funding public transport infrastructure, and doesn’t understand Greater Dandenong’s importance as a public transport hub. The Rudd Labor Government understands that fixing traffic congestion is too big a task to simply say ‘it’s the State’s job’.
PJ: During your campaign have you come across any specific issues relating to the Indian community of Bruce and how do you intend to resolve them?
EC: I have enjoyed spending a great deal of my time over the past year with members of the Indian community in Bruce, attending functions as well as visiting the temple. People of Indian citizenship and nationality are our single largest intake of migrants to Australia and more importantly, they are the singles biggest contributors to skilled migration. I recently attended the Sikh Temple in Blackburn with the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Scott Morrison, where people raised the issue of Labor’s attack on 457 visas. The Indian community has been rightly outraged by Labor telling the Australian people that migrants are taking their jobs. I can assure the Indian community in Bruce that they will never hear this sort of rhetoric from a Coalition Government. We celebrate the contributions that the Indian community have made to Australia over generations and, if fortunate enough to be elected on September 7, I will continue to support the Indian community in Bruce.
AG: Indian migrants have similar concerns to most Australians, particularly those who have come to Australia from overseas to build a life for them and their families. Access to high quality education at all levels, the opportunity to find employment and the capacity to access good quality health care are all important priorities. Also the ability to sponsor family members to both visit and migrate to Australia. Labor’s Better Schools Plan, record investment in skills and training and increased support for Medicare all point to our commitment across these areas. That India is now our fourth largest migrant community and nearly 160,000 visited Australia in 2012 illustrates the significant growth in our links with India.
PJ: The Indian community’s middle income earners have contributed significantly to the Australian economy, but they feel ignored when it comes to policymaking and benefits. How does your party respond to that?
EC: People in the Indian community are genuinely concerned about the state of the economy and the future direction of our country under a Labor Government. Many people own small businesses and I have heard countless stories of declining profits, staff having to be laid off, and skyrocketing electricity and gas bills. Unlike Labor, the Coalition has strong economic credentials and a proven track record of managing budgets and, as part of a united Coalition team, I will work hard to restore a strong and secure economy to Australia so that businesses prosper and people feel secure in their employment. The Coalition will scrap the carbon tax, slash the red tape that has tied up small business in knots, and improve local health services and restore the Private Health Insurance rebate as soon as we responsibly can. We value the contributions that middle-income earners make to our country and will be working hard to restore hope, reward and opportunity to the Indian community.
AG: Members of the Indian community in Australia have been very active members of many professional, community and political organisations. Through these organisations they have played important roles in being part of the ongoing policy and political debate within Australia. They have also had access to the same benefits as other Australians, which is appropriate and fair.
PJ: How does your party plan to forge better relations with India?
EC: As the Hon Julie Bishop, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, recently stated: “Australia and India are good friends and within Australia there is no greater friend of India than the Liberal Party of Australia.”
The Liberal Party appreciates the importance of our relationship with India and we share the values of freedom and choice, enterprise and hard work. Ms Bishop has made clear that broadening and deepening our relationship with India will be a priority for the Coalition in government. The Coalition will also seek to build Australia’s trade and investment relationship with India and continue to be an important partner with India in terms of its energy needs. We will recalibrate our foreign affairs strategy to ensure trade is an important part of dialogue between our two countries.
AG: In a visit to Delhi in November 2009, Prime Minister Rudd and Prime Minister Singh announced the establishment of a Strategic Partnership between Australia and India. Under the agreement, both countries have pursued deeper bilateral, regional and international cooperation across a wide range of fields, including on strategic and security matters. We have been making solid progress. This includes the launching of negotiations on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement, the opening of a consulate in Chennai, further progress in negotiating a free trade agreement and making Hindi a priority Asian language in our schools. There was also a major promotion of Australia in India known as Oz Fest with 100 events across 18 cities. When the Labor Government launched the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper we said India was one of our priority relationships – together with China, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. Soon the Government will launch the India Country Strategy – a blue print for how we plan to build further our relationship by 2025 across community, business and government. India is Australia’s fifth largest export market. Total trade in 2012 was valued at $17.5 billion. India is our second largest source of international students. On the tourism front, India is one of the world’s fastest growing outbound travel markets, with the World Tourism Organisation predicting 50 million outbound travellers by 2020. In the year ending December 2012, Australia received almost 160 000 Indian visitors, spending in the order of $800 million. Of all of Australia’s significant relationships in Asia, our relationship with India has perhaps the greatest potential to expand. Australia can supply the resources that India needs to develop and we can provide education, finance and IT services, and tourism opportunities to India’s growing middle class.
PJ: What will be your plarty’s first step to offer better immigration policies to migrants?
EC: The Indian community has been well served by the Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Scott Morrison who has developed a strong working relationship with the community, and he will continue to work closely with them as the Minister if the Coalition is fortunate enough to form government. The Coalition Government will reintroduce a suite or proven measures to stem the flow of illegal boat arrivals. We strongly believe that having a properly targeted and well-managed migration program is critical to our nation’s future.
Historically, skilled migration has been one of the most important contributors to our national success, delivering social and economic strength, prosperity and unity, and a strong and cohesive society. The Coalition has always value the involvement of migrants in our economy and society and we will hard to restore integrity to our immigration programme.
AG: Labor believes our current migration system provides a good balance between skilled migration, family reunion, refugee and other categories. The substantial growth in migration from India in recent years would point to the fact that it has certainly allowed significant opportunity for Indians to come to Australia.
PJ: From 1996 till date Alan Griffin has been the member for Bruce. Emanuele, what will it take to win the seat this year? Alan, what will it take to retain the seat?
EC: While there is no doubt I have a battle on my hands to win the seat, I am working hard to let people know that there is a clear choice in Bruce at this election and they don’t have to put up with another three years of neglect under Alan Griffin and Labor.
I am being supported by senior members of the Coalition team, as well as specific visits from frontbenchers Malcolm Turnbull and Christopher Pyne who recognize local residents deserve better. This election provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the people living in Bruce to throw out a bad government and elect a member of the Coalition who will work tirelessly as part of a stable government to deliver a stronger economy with more jobs, real help for families and small business, lower taxes and secure borders.
AG: I will continue to work hard as the local member and ensure electors understand the choice that they face on September 7. Despite the constant negativity that we’ve seen from Mr Abbott, I believe that residents have a very clear choice at this election. A Rudd Labor Government is offering genuine investment in vital future infrastructure such as our schools and the NBN, and a proven steady hand on our economy which by any measure is envied around the world. Mr Abbott will scrap the NBN, and then proceed to cut superannuation savings, the Schoolkids Bonus, and the Better Schools Plan just to name a few. He’s got billions of dollars’ worth of holes in his costings which need filling, and nothing will be off the table. He simply can’t be trusted.
PJ: We are now nearly at the last few days of the campaign. Where do you see it going?
EC: I am out every day talking to people in Bruce who are struggling with cost of living pressures and worried about job security. They feel that Labor has let down their families and they are looking to vote for real change on September 7 so that we can have strong and stable government once again. I have met many locals who tell me they will vote Liberal for the first time in their lives. They are sick of the chaos and dysfunction. If fortunate enough to be elected to represent the people of Bruce, I will work hard to restore hope, reward and opportunity for our community.
AG: I’ve been through enough election campaigns to know that it’s not a good idea to spend too much time speculating about the result. That’s a matter for the people. We’ll find out soon enough!