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.
Firstly, 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?!