Diversity made invisible in 2010 Australian federal election

Diversity made invisible in 2010 Australian federal election. John Alexander This weekend, if you were out shopping, you couldn’t escape the electioneering for the 2010 Australian federal election. I do my grocery shopping in Eastwood, one of Sydney’s most multicultural suburbs and was infuriated by the mismatch between our diverse and multilingual community and the homogeneous and monolingual view taken by the candidates and the media.

Eastwood is a suburb in the north of Sydney, famous for its large Chinese and Korean communities. According to the 2006 census, over 50% of residents were born overseas – if you walk on the bustling main streets on both sides of Eastwood station, you feel as if you are transported to an Asian country (I feel right at home ;-)! The markets are always busy, frequented by customers from all kinds of cultural and language backgrounds, who are after the amazing range of cheap and fresh produce available there. The shopkeepers themselves are as multicultural and multilingual as their customers, conversing with co-workers in one language and switching to another to address customers.

This Saturday there was an election campaign poster for John Alexander of the Australian Liberal Party (which in Australia means the conservative side of politics and currently the main opposition party) in front of one of the busiest grocery stores. I didn’t know who John Alexander was, so I got some campaign leaflets from one of the four campaign volunteers touting on the street. I found out that he is an ex-tennis-player-turned-into-TV commentator (aha, him!) and now politician and he’s the Liberal Party’s candidate in the electorate of Bennelong, which includes highly diverse suburbs such as Eastwood, Epping, North Ryde, Carlingford etc etc. According to the leaflet, John is “determined to protect our community’s quality of life”, and promises to be “a strong voice for the people of Bennelong.” A strong voice for the diverse people of Bennelong? Sounds good but, unfortunately, judging on the basis of his campaign leaflets he’s not quite there yet.

Diversity made invisible in 2010 Australian federal election. John AlexanderFirstly, there are two different types of leaflets. One was supposedly the main one, printed in English with a big photo of his smiley face on one side and the promotional pitch on the other. The other was trilingual in Korean, Chinese and English. A good effort to reach out to the Chinese and Korean speaking communities? After all, Bennelong is the electorate where in 2007 the then-first time Labour candidate and news-reader-turned-politician Maxine McKew famously beat the then-Prime Minister John Howard. And her success was in no small measure due to winning the support of the Chinese and Korean business communities and mobilising the youth from the electorate’s multilingual communities.

So, John Alexander is trying to do the same thing. Unfortunately, his heart obviously isn’t in it and the result is a cheap attempt to look multilingual. Unlike the main English leaflet which is professionally printed on glossy and high-quality paper, the trilingual leaflet was clearly home-printed, with Korean on one side and Chinese on the other on paper of inferior quality.

All the six photos on the trilingual leaflet feature John engaging in deep conversation with residents. Unfortunately, none of those interlocutors look like anyone on the main streets of Eastwood – all of them are white! Furthermore, if you bother to read the text, not even the usual politicians’ lip service to multiculturalism is there.

From John’s election leaflets to media reports, it’s really amazing how non-white voters are absent from this election. For example, the ABC claimed yesterday that they put together a ‘cross board of voters’ in their studio to comment on the live debate between the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the opposition leader. Maybe they were kidding because all I could see was two white men and three white women. Have the ABC producers and the candidates of both major political parties never been shopping in Eastwood or any of Sydney’s other multilingual and multicultural suburbs?!

Author Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江

高橋 君江 is Visiting Associate Professor at International Christian University, Tokyo. Before joining ICU in 2014, she was Lecturer at the Graduate School of English at Assumption University of Thailand (2011 - 2014) and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University, Australia (2007 and 2011). Kimie is an Honorary Associate in the Department of Linguistics, and continues to co-supervise several PhD students with Ingrid Piller at Macquarie University.

More posts by Kimie Takahashi 高橋君江
  • Soren

    The main issue in this election is immigration. Everyone is talking about stopping the boats as if thousands of boats were close to Melbourne, Sydney, or Perth, and invading Australia. A few multilingual leaflets will not change the main policy of both parties which is concentrated on stopping immigration. Not only the liberals, who are traditionally anti-immigration are abusing migrants but also Labour with their coup de etat-style change of the PM, are trying to get some votes from the right.

    The interesting thing is that they are leaving the traditional Labour/Union field and entering the centre-right field of Liberals. I am not sure if the few votes they will get from the right will compensate for the loss of votes from the left side of politics and from multicultural Australia. Eventually, everyone in this society will lose out with this pandering to racism.

    It’s also interesting to note that both candidates for PM were born overseas and migrated to Australia – guess from where …

  • steven

    official immigration has been increasing and will continue to increase regardless of what both parties say…they need the consumers to provide growing markets for the large corporations they both support… what i find interesting is that while the media and everyone makes a big deal about 2000-3000 illegal immigrants who come by boat, nothing is said about the estimated 20,000 – 30,000 people from economically advanced countries such as the uk, europe, the us and canada who have overstayed their visas and are just as illegal as the others…

  • Khan

    If politicans had known the way linguistics look at the reality/realities, they would have banned us. Your analysis is very appealing and convincing as it is based on semiotic evidences in the text and of course the talk around the text as well. However, I would like to comment very briefly on one lexical item in the text: “Protect” and Agency in the text. The word triggers many cognitive models in which there is someone more powerful, able and competent to save the sinking ship of community life. It also make us believe that there are adverse forces against which we have to save guard the community’s quality of life. By implicaiton, the community needs a protector, a saviour( with intese religious connotation) or else… ?

    If we map the agency structure as to who does what to whom in the text world. It is in the hand of the people( who you have rightly pointed out) shown in the picture or were invited to tele talks. So, the text world and the practices reveal to us a different reality which does not conform to the slogons of multiculturalism or diversity. Buz words which carry no meaning for linguistis.

    Thanks for such an interesting analysis of someting which is so current.

  • William Steed (from Fully(sic))

    Id be interested to know about the quality of the Chinese and Korean in the leaflets. Id be horrified if it were a glorified internet translation, especially given the multilingual resources right there in the electorate.