Chi­nese ties could be the de­cid­ing fac­tor


La­bor played well to chang­ing de­mo­graph­ics in 2007 when it fielded Max­ine McKew as a re­spected out­sider in the fed­eral seat of Ben­ne­long. McKew had no left-wing pedi­gree, and she spoke en­gag­ingly with lo­cals.

Crit­i­cal to La­bor’s suc­cess­ful push to oust John Howard was the un­threat­en­ing prospect of its can­di­date ap­peal­ing to the Chi­nese pop­u­la­tion of Ben­ne­long.

In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, Howard, de­spite his crit­i­cism of Asian im­mi­gra­tion ear­lier in his ca­reer, was re­spected and still a good fit for Ben­ne­long, be­cause he was a con­ser­va­tive.

McKew needed to be ca­pa­ble of com­pet­ing for the sup­port of vot­ers in the seat, many of them Chi­nese busi­ness­peo­ple who might be re­luc­tant to vote out the prime min­is­ter as their lo­cal mem­ber.

The trend in de­mo­graph­ics for Ben­ne­long has con­tin­ued apace in the seven years since John Alexan­der won the mar­ginal seat back from La­bor in 2010.

The make-up of key Ben­ne­long sub­urbs in Syd­ney’s north­west has shifted still fur­ther away from mid­dle- and work­ing­class peo­ple of An­glo-Ir­ish de­scent. East­wood, Deni­s­tone, Mars­field and Ryde have be­come very much Chi­nese sub­urbs.

La­bor has re­sponded by pour­ing in huge re­sources to win the sup­port of this com­mu­nity. It has em­braced Chi­nese as­so­ci­a­tions and cul­tural groups. And it has at­tracted Chi­nese can­di­dates to run for the party to a greater de­gree than the Lib­er­als.

Ernest Wong, a for­mer mayor of Bur­wood and now a NSW La­bor up­per house MP, has deep ties with the com­mu­nity lead­ers he reg­u­larly lunches with.

He is a close as­so­ciate of the rich lo­cal Chi­nese busi­ness­man Huang Xiangmo, who runs in­flu­en­tial Chi­nese lobby groups that reach into Ben­ne­long, in Syd­ney’s in­ner north­west, and heads a build­ing de­vel­op­ment com­pany with ad­vanced mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar plans to re­vamp East­wood’s shop­ping cen­tre.

Wong served as a men­tor to two Chi­nese can­di­dates on La­bor’s Se­nate ticket at last year’s fed­eral elec­tion who were backed by party head of­fice: Si­mon Zhou and Paul Han. Nei­ther won, but Mr Han is now a La­bor coun­cil­lor on Par­ra­matta Coun­cil and works for sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari. Zhou is now an in­de­pen­dent on Ryde coun­cil whose vote was crit­i­cal in help­ing mayor Jerome Laxale re­tain his po­si­tion in Septem­ber.

When Kaila Mur­nain, the ALP’s gen­eral sec­re­tary, sets out to win Ben­ne­long for La­bor in next month’s by-elec­tion, she has the ad­van­tage of Wong’s sup­port in gar­ner­ing the lo­cal votes. Even if Zhou has left the ALP, the back­ing he got from the Chi­nese com­mu­nity of East­wood and Mars­field in Septem­ber’s coun­cil elec­tions could be re­ac­ti­vated to help Kristina Ke­neally.

On Shorten’s in­struc­tions, La­bor MPs are no longer per­mit­ted to have any as­so­ci­a­tion with Huang be­cause of his al­leged con­nec­tions to Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party in­ter­ests, as re­ported by an ABC-Fair­fax Four Cor­ners pro­gram in June.

But the back chan­nels Huang en­joys with lo­cal con­stituents of Ben­ne­long could help La­bor all the same. It is doubt­ful that John Alexan­der, de­spite his best ef­forts over the past seven years of hold­ing the seat, has the con­nec­tions to match La­bor.

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