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Australia polls: Indian migrants come of age

By Neena Bhandari, IANS

Sydney : As the countdown begins for one of the most closely contested elections in Australia in a decade, will anyone of Indian origin be elected to the federal parliament this Saturday?

Time will tell. But the presence of around 12 Indian origin Australians contesting this federal election is testimony to the fact that they want to have a real say in the way their adopted country is ruled.

Karen Chijoff, who has worked for many years in the computing world and then as a swimming teacher, is contesting the seat of Lindsay from New South Wales on the Liberal Party of Australia ticket. Her parents hail from India, but she was born in England and migrated to Australia in 1973.

Disappointed by the two leading political parties – the Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Labour Party, some candidates have courageously ventured into the arena, aligning with lesser-known parties.

Sukrit Sabhlok, 20, a student, was born in Assam and has been living in Melbourne for the past seven years. He is the Liberty and Democracy Party candidate for the Victorian seat of Corangamite.

Similarly, Kundan Misra, 34, is contesting on the Citizens Electoral Council ticket. He was born in Sydney and has degrees in science and law from Sydney University and an MPhil in computer science from Britain.

This election is being fought on the main issues of climate change, education, health and interest rate rises. Priyadarshi Sharma, a broadcast designer who migrated to Australia in 1995, would vote for the Greens rather than the two main political parties.

Australia’s involvement in the Iraq war and the John Howard government’s controversial anti-terrorism laws, under which Indian doctor Muhammad Haneef was incarcerated for over three weeks, have earned the wrath of mainstream and migrant communities.

Siddalingeswara Orekondy, who migrated to Australia 31 years ago from Mysore, says: “I have voted Liberals for many years, but this year I am switching to another party, mainly because of their arrogance, and also because of the way they misused their power in Dr Haneef’s case. They also come across as racially biased.”

Migrant communities like the Indians are divided on the Work Choices Legislation, which the proponents say is good for business but those opposed describe as being discriminatory against workers.

United India Association president Raj Natarajan feels the Labour Party’s policies best serve the interest of the people. He expects the incumbent government to provide strong leadership and strong economy.

Rajat Ganguly, senior lecturer in politics and international studies and fellow of the Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University in Perth, says: “Labour’s proposed policies, especially on education revolution, infrastructure development, creation of a national broadband network and better pay and job security, serve my interest the best.”

However, Sydney-based architect Amitav Goswami says: “I have been voting for Labour, but this time I am voting for the Liberals as I feel Labour is too inexperienced to handle the current situation.”

Most Indian origin migrants, coming from one of the most vibrant democracies in the world, are proving to be active participants in the political process of their adopted country.

A mother of three and first-time voter Sushila Barmecha is contented with the current government’s economic policies, but says, “A lot needs to be done in the field of education and health.”

People of Indian origin in the fray represent a wide spectrum. In New South Wales, Yusuf Tahir, a schoolteacher and taxi driver, is contesting as an Independent from Prime Minister Howard’s Bennelong constituency while Neerav Bhatt, an IT consultant, is standing for the Greens from Werriwa.

In Victoria, Mukesh Garg, an academic and accountant, is standing for Family First from Gellibrand; Conrad D’Souza, a toxicologist, is contesting on the Liberal ticket from Jagajaga; Surome Singh, a student, is running for the La Trobe seat on the Liberty and Democracy Party ticket; Suryan Chandrasegaran, a solicitor, is contesting from MacMillan for the Democratic Labour Party.

In Queensland, Shalina Najeeb, a solicitor, is standing from Groom, and Maaz Syed, an aeronautical engineer, is running from Forde, both on the Australian Democrats ticket.

In Australian Capital Territory (ACT), Farida Iqbal, a student is standing for the Socialist Alliance Party from Fraser.

With less than a day left before polling begins, it is said the “undecided” voters comprising new Australians will play a crucial role in deciding on the future government of the country.

Ian McAllister, a political science professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, told IANS: “Immigrants to Australia, particularly those from non-English speaking countries, generally tend to vote Labour. This pattern also appears to apply to those from the Indian subcontinent. I would expect Indian migrants to be disproportionately voting for the Labour Party in Saturday’s election.”

As the country cries for change and going by opinion polls, using a cricket metaphor, will John Howard retire to the pavilion after his 11-year innings and Labour leader Kevin Rudd launch his batting attack? The voters want promises delivered, whoever is on the striking end.