The message from voters is clear. According to one poll, some 80% of voters say the Coalition must allow Turnbull to serve his full term. The huge swing delivered by the punters in New England must surely include an element of confidence in the present leadership. That same confidence may well be repeated in the Bennelong by election.

Certainly that was the vibe I picked up through parts of my backyard, a place my parents dragged me to at five months old in 1970. It didn’t really matter who I spoke to – my Middle Eastern chemist in Ryde or the lady behind the op shop counter in West Ryde or the Malaysian dude who sells confectionary at the Taiwanese night market in Eastwood – most people displayed little interest in the campaign, which can only help the incumbent. Contrast this to when John Howard lost the seat and Maxine McKew became a one term wonder. Back then, many voters were on a mission to toss out the PM in the most humiliating fashion.

Thankfully for the Libs, John Alexander is no John Howard. Even when he was allegedly too busy commenting on the tennis to speak to the media, his campaign mustn’t have suffered too much. He managed a cool 4.5% swing in 2010, easily defeating McKew. He followed this up with 4.6% in 2013 and then around 2% in 2016. Alexander’s alleged laziness has turned what was a marginal ALP seat into a safe Liberal seat, just like it was when a much younger me used to cry when mum dragged me away empty handed from the toy shop in Eastwood.

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Back then, Eastwood was very anglo. Nowadays, Eastwood looks and feels like a combination of Taipei, Shanghai and Seoul. And a sprinkling of Delhi if you include mum and I.

Politicians often fall into the trap of judging an electorate by its appearance. Or in Cory Bernardi’s case, by how a small majority of its residents voted in the same sex marriage postal survey. The Australian Conservatives candidate, a young lad named Joram Richa, had a table at the shady end of Eastwood mall when I was there last, away from the stinking Saturday lunchtime heat. Joram’s grandparents arrived here from Lebanon.

His table included a huge “IT’S OK TO VOTE NO” poster, which must have confused some of the punters who imagined that survey was still open. Big boofy volunteers were approaching shoppers. One of them spoke good Mandarin, though most of the Asian-looking punters he approached likely spoke better English. At one stage, a very tall volunteer started chanting about conservative values and why communist lesbians were trying to turn our kids into communist lesbians. Poor Joram looked most embarrassed.

Perhaps he should be even more embarrassed by his alleged friends in the tabloid press. Miranda Devine salivated over the fact that Jarom is Catholic and that his brother Chechade (which I think is spelled “Chehade”) was “the face of the faith-based Verum Media, which played a prominent role galvanising No-voters in the same-sex marriage debate”. Though when you check out Verum’s social media pages you’ll find lectures on the necessity of the medieval Crusades. No doubt this will sway the votes of Aussie punters of Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Singaporean etc heritage.

I ventured out of the shade and into the sun to where the hardcore Liberal volunteers were located. I started chatting to two Young Libs, one originated from Hong Kong and the other from Taiwan. In the distance I saw a procession of red t-shirts. Two anglo folk were leading a growing number of East Asian looking folk from around a corner. The procession consisted of two lines, each like with around 30 awkward-looking undergrads who seemed unsure as to where they were.

One of the young people, a chap studying at UTS, handed me a Labor flier in English and Chinese. He told me he was an overseas student from China, as were the rest of the procession. His efforts at communicating with me in English were valiant, and I wished he’d had more time to teach me some Mandarin. But his mission wasn’t small talk with an overweight Indo-Pakistani. His task was to approach Chinese-looking shoppers and speak to them in Mandarin and hand them a brochure in simplified Chinese script about an election they could easily tell he knew little about.

Because apparently this is how you win the “Asian” vote.

If John Alexander’s most serious challenges are from overly conservative anti-SSM fruitcakes and a Labor Party that bus in overseas students to speak to Australians who arrived from southeast, east and north Asia decades ago, my guess is that the swing to the Liberals in Bennelong could easily rival New England.​

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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