Chinese-Australian voters helped sway the election result. So what issues mattered most to them?
Along with millions of Australians, Anna Wang cast her vote for Labor this election.
- Some electorates with high Chinese-speaking populations saw big swings to Labor
- Many shared concerns about health, education and climate change
- But some say tensions with China shaped their vote too
Her ballot was part of a massive swing towards Labor in the Sydney electorate of Reid, delivering the seat to Sally Sitou, who has Chinese heritage and whose parents fled Laos due to the Vietnam war.
Australia’s fraught relationship with China was a key talking point during the election campaign and it shaped Ms Wang’s vote.
The 66-year-old said she hoped the new government would improve Australia-China relations and increase trade between the two nations.
“Since the relationship deteriorated and Peter Dutton talked about war with China, there has been more racist pressure on the Chinese,” she said.
“As a soon-to-be retiree, I am concerned about the minimum wage and the issues of Medicare and aged care.
“Sally Sitou is a young candidate who has strong community connections. We don’t care about the ethnicity of the candidate. We will support anyone who can represent the interests of the community.”
Erin Chew, from the Asian Australian Alliance, said she felt it was long overdue that someone with Asian heritage was elected as the local MP for such a diverse electorate.
Vivienne Chen, originally from Shanghai, runs a dumpling house in the Sydney suburb of Burwood.
She said while Ms Sitou was a strong candidate and she was pleased to see someone with Chinese heritage running in Reid, she chose to vote Liberal.
“The Liberal party had dealt with the pandemic properly and provided sufficient support for small businesses,” she said.
“I hope that the Chinese community members will get more involved in politics and have more representation in the parliament.”
How did Chinese Australians vote?
Electorates where almost one in five people have Chinese ancestries – such as Reid (18 per cent) and Chisholm (19 per cent) – saw swings of more than 8 per cent to Labor.
That’s much higher than the national average of 3.4 per cent.
The swing in Chisholm in Melbourne saw Hong Kong-born Gladys Liu lose her seat to Labor’s Carina Garland.
But it wasn’t the same story everywhere. Fowler, in Sydney’s west, which has 16 per cent Vietnamese ancestry and 11 per cent Chinese heritage, saw a huge 16 per cent swing away from Labor to Dai Le, an independent.
Liberal-held Banks, where 16 per cent of the population has Chinese ancestry, and Labor-held Parramatta (12 per cent) saw modest swings to Labor but did not change hands.
Kooyong, where more than 11 per cent of the population has Chinese heritage, saw a 10 per cent swing away from former Liberal treasurer Josh Frydenberg in favour of independent Dr Monique Ryan.
Western Australia’s Tangney, where one in 10 people have Chinese heritage, saw an even bigger swing of 11.9 per cent to elect new Labor MP Sam Lim, a former dolphin trainer with Chinese-Malaysian heritage.
Counting is still ongoing in Deakin, where almost 10 per cent of people have Chinese heritage, and a swing to Labor has the current margin to just a few dozen votes.
What issues mattered most?
For some, China was a deciding factor in their vote.
Wang Zhengliang, who lives in the Kooyong electorate in Melbourne’s inner-east, immigrated from China more than three decades ago.
Mr Wang said many in his community voted for the Liberals in the past, but switched to the independent this time.
“That’s a dilemma.
“China is so far away, throwing a brick may not be able to cross the Pacific Ocean [to China]. It could end up hitting us [Chinese Australians] on the head instead.”
Some voters, like Huiling Chen in WA’s seat of Tangney, wanted to see change.
“As a part of the Chinese community in Australia, I think it is time to get more culturally diverse MPs into the parliament and for more Chinese Australians to make their voices heard in politics,” she said.
“I really hope we will stand strong, [and go] from strength to strength.”
Elian, who has Chinese heritage and was born in Australia, cast her vote in Chisholm in Melbourne.
“Because it’s so close, every vote will really count,” she said.
“I think we need a change of government.”
She said the key issues for her were climate change and education.
But Emily Sun, also in Chisholm, was disappointed by the result.
“I am worried about the future of Australia. I can clearly feel that Australia is turning to the left and climate change has become a key issue.”
“The vision is good, but who pays the bill for it just after Australia comes out of the pandemic? It is like asking a man who just recovered from a severe sickness to run on a high-speed treadmill.”
But she added it was time to unite, not divide.
That sentiment rang true for Jie Chen, an associate professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Western Australia.
Dr Chen was not surprised that electorates with high Chinese populations swung to Labor.
“Politicians like [former prime minister Scott] Morrison and [former defence minister] Peter Dutton have said hawkish things about Australia-China relations,” he said.
He said some media reports about China made Chinese Australians feel they have been linked to the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), especially during trade tensions and the pandemic.
China an underlying factor, but not ‘make or break’ for voters
Monash University business school associate professor He-Ling Shi told ABC the election result showed voters were sick and tired of being taken for granted.
“These so-called teal independents are targeting safer Liberal seats, and a lot of young people are voting for them,” Dr Shi said.
Wilfred Wang, a media and communications expert, came to Australia from China when he was 12.
Dr Wang said while Australia-China relations were an underlying issue for many Chinese Australians, it was not necessarily the make-or-break reason for many changing their votes.
He said like many Australians, Chinese Australians were becoming more drawn to taking action on climate change.
“I found that there are a lot of people who put the Greens first and then the Liberals second,” he said.
Dr Wang thinks the Greens also did a good job communicating with Chinese voters during the campaign, with Chinese-language ads.
Jieh-Yung Lo, director of the Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership at the Australian National University, said while many Chinese Australians shared concerns of all Australians — such as the cost of living, the economy, education and health — the result also showed that “foreign policy is very much a domestic issue”.
“We’re seeing strong shifts away from the Morrison government by Chinese Australian communities who are very nervous about our relationship with China, but also how the government and policymakers are handling this relationship,” he said.
Mr Lo, who is not a member of any political party but was a Labor member in the past, said it was important to point out that Chinese Australians were “not a monolithic group”.
He said Ms Liu’s loss in Chisholm demonstrated it wasn’t just about ethnicity, but about managing diverse dynamics in a community – from local issues to foreign policy.
China and national security had loomed large during the campaign, and Mr Lo pointed out that while sometimes attempts were made to differentiate between the Chinese Communist Party or government and the Chinese people, often the nuance was lost.
“It does actually have spill-over effects in terms of Chinese Australians being collateral damage,” he said.
He said it would be interesting to see what Australia’s foreign policy agenda would look like under Penny Wong, Australia’s first foreign minister of Chinese-Malaysian heritage, and how key players in the region such as China would respond to it.