The Ethnic Vote: An Uphill Battle Facing 21st Century Conservatives

Growing up amongst the Indian diaspora in Western Sydney, the message from the community was always that the conservatism was the institution of the xenophobic establishment, of white imperialism, racism and the oppressive British Empire. On the other hand, it was simply assumed that the Left were our true representatives, running compassionate and caring policies that sought to suppress racism and make us feel welcome. This political outlook is not unlike most ‘ethnic’ communities across the country, where there tends to be an inculcated presupposition within ‘ethnic’ communities to vote for the Left.

‘Ethnic’ conservatives face relentless scrutiny and social isolation within their communities, only worsening the representation of the right-wing to mostly apolitical immigrants. With Australia’s ‘ethnic’ population only increasing, conservatives face an uphill, yet winnable battle in attaining the ‘ethnic’ vote.

Naturally, the predominant domain of suspicion that arises toward conservatism from these communities is concerning the issue of immigration. Firstly, it is deeply significant to highlight a distinction between sensible conservative commentary and far-right rhetoric on the issue, for instance the former federal senator Fraser Anning’s open praise for the regressive White Australia Policy in 2018. Instead, conservatism appreciates the importance of moderate immigration, along with close attention to sustainability and security of the nation.

Indeed, such political philosophy is widely reflected in the policy history of the Australian Liberal Party. It was under the conservative government of Harold Holt, that the White Australia policy was effectively abolished in 1966. It was under the conservative government of Malcolm Fraser, that Australia welcomed over 200,000 Asian immigrants on skill-focused programs. And, it was under the conservative government of John Howard that orthodox, skill-based immigration reached an all-time high – receiving global acclaim for its well-monitored and controlled system.

Yet, such policy history is rarely conveyed to the various ‘ethnic’ communities across the nation – as the aforementioned regressive immigration stances of the far-right are often conflated with traditionalist conservative positions on the issue. As such, we must speak up against manipulative rhetoric from the Left that incorrectly brands a conservative immigration stance as being xenophobic hence isolating and alienating a vast majority of ‘ethnic’ voters.

Worsening the subliminal negativity toward conservatism from the ‘ethnic’ minorities in Australia is the perception of the Left as a beacon of diversity and wide representation – while the Liberal Party is erroneously overlooked as the party of old white males. The ALP made a conscious effort to illuminate their supposed diverse representation during the 2019 Federal Election, with special campaigning emphasis on South Australian Federal senator Penny Wong’s Asian background.

At its core, conservatism champions economic meritocracy as a fundamental underpinning of our prosperous capitalist nation. However, such emphasis is often erroneously conflated with a regressive doctrine of homogenous political representation. In fact, the 2019 Federal election itself saw the Liberal Party achieve several landmark feats in this domain: Gladys Liu became the first elected Chinese-born member of the House of Representatives, Ken Wyatt became Australia’s first Indigenous cabinet minister, and Dave Sharma became the first federal MP of Indian origin. It’s clear that the myth of a homogenous Liberal Party is well on its way to being convincingly disproven, and not in a shrewd, cognisant way to procure the vote of ‘ethnic’ Australians.

Even still, attempting to heal inculcated misrepresentations of conservatism can only get us so far in swaying the fiercely contested ‘ethnic’ vote. We must recognise that the ‘ethnic’ vote is only becoming more significant in Australian politics and is something we must act upon. In fact, what we’ll find is that this untapped voting base is truly, deep down conservative.

Most significantly, we must continue to pursue policy that fosters a sustainable, sensible level of multiculturalism. That means continuing to champion political plurality and a diverse range of liberal ideas, in keeping with our Judeo-Christian roots. Rather than pander to the nation’s far-right, we must stand-up for the virtues of the Australian ‘fair go’. To sell ‘Australian dream’ of hard-working, determined immigrants who can settle here and give themselves, their children and their community a prosperous life. This need not coincide with abandonment of our responsible and efficient immigration policy, which incumbent UK Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson continuously praised and promised to model Britain’s system on throughout the 2019 UK General Election.

To attain the significant ‘ethnic’ vote, conservatives do not need to abandon their core economic principles, rather we must showcase that our economics is not simply a philosophy of inequality, but rather a philosophy of sustainable, sensible management. As we look ahead, the ‘ethnic’ vote is becoming increasingly more significant with the growing number of first-generation Australians. As such, we should be bold in maintaining our core economic policies that create a sustainable, prosperous economy in the long run for our youth, such as fiscal conservatism. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the Howard government’s effective management of the Australian budget throughout the 2000s, absorbing unprecedented growth from the mining boom and applying sensible fiscal management to create numerous budget surpluses to reverse a $96 million debt inherited. These surpluses were the foundation for Australia’s widely acclaimed stimulus package during the 2008-09 Global Financial Crisis, which – unlike most other developed nations – enabled us to avoid any economic recession or any major increase in unemployment. At the heart of fiscal conservatism lies a desire to create a debt-free, sustainable future for our youth – a policy measure that would certainly resonate with the young, ‘ethnic’ population emerging in the country.

As conservative US president Ronald Reagan once said about Hispanic Americans, ‘ethnic’ Australians are, “conservatives who just don’t know it yet”. Most immigrants have settled in Australia intending to abandon regimes which emphasise an oppressive state control of the human conscience, instead seeking a nation that champions the inalienable rights of the individual. These minority communities tend to highly appreciate and value religious freedom, tradition and social stability and harmony. Reaching out to the ‘ethnic’ communities means to genuinely affirm them as partners in our journey for a better Australia and supporting them in their own pursuit of contentment. Indeed, attaining the ‘ethnic’ vote is an uphill battle. It’s one of our greatest challenges in a world dominated by social media that serves as an echo chamber for the Left. Yet, it’s clear – that an application of our traditional, liberal values renders conservatism relevant as ever in the 21st century.

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