Dast­yari: high num­ber of no votes in La­bor seats shows ‘huge dis­con­nect’

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines / News - Michael McGowan

The high pro­por­tion of no vot­ers in La­bor-held seats in west­ern Syd­ney shows a “huge dis­con­nect” be­tween the party’s tra­di­tional heart­land and its more so­cially pro­gres­sive agenda, the prom­i­nent sen­a­tor Sam Dast­yari says.

On Wed­nes­day the re­sults from Aus­tralia’s vol­un­tary non-bind­ing same-sex mar­riage postal sur­vey re­vealed a 61.6% win for the yes vote, with 133 of the 150 fed­eral elec­torates re­turn­ing ma­jor­ity sup­port for mar­riage equal­ity.

But of the 17 no-vot­ing elec­torates, 12 were in west­ern Syd­ney and nine of those are held by La­bor MPs.

Dast­yari said he was “per­son­ally sur­prised by the size of the dis­crep­ancy” but not that it ex­isted.

“It’s not a new prob­lem but it’s a prob­lem that needed to be high­lighted,” he said. “As a trend, the seats with the high­est yes and no vote were all held by La­bor, and that shows the dif­fi­culty of strad­dling a bridge be­tween our eco­nomic and our so­cial poli­cies.

“What you have in places like west­ern Syd­ney is quite con­ser­va­tive so­cial val­ues, and that is go­ing to be a chal­lenge for the ALP go­ing for­ward as we push our pro­gres­sive so­cial agenda.”

Dast­yari said west­ern Syd­ney’s eth­ni­cally di­verse pop­u­la­tion was a big part of the no vote. Most of the Syd­ney elec­torates that voted no had a rel­a­tively high pro­por­tion of peo­ple born over­seas, and elec­torates with a strong ma­jor­ity of no vot­ers also had large pop­u­la­tions with a re­li­gious be­lief.

In the seat of Blax­land, for ex­am­ple, only 14% of the pop­u­la­tion de­clared “no re­li­gion” in the 2016 cen­sus. Held by the La­bor shadow min­is­ter Ja­son Clare, Blax­land recorded the high­est no vote in the coun­try at 73.9%.

Sim­i­larly, the no-vot­ing west­ern Syd­ney seats of Wat­son, McMa­hon and Green­way recorded no re­li­gion votes of 15.6%, 12% and 15% re­spec­tively, and all have a higher than av­er­age pro­por­tion of res­i­dents who were born over­seas.

Clare said he was not sur­prised by the re­sult, say­ing Blax­land was “a very so­cially con­ser­va­tive elec­torate” and he has pub­licly stated he sup­ports same-sex mar­riage.

“I’ve al­ways known the views of my elec­torate on this is­sue and I’ve al­ways been up­front with them about mine,” he said. “Good peo­ple with good hearts can have dif­fer­ent views on this im­por­tant is­sue.”

The ma­jor­ity of Blax­land vot­ers iden­ti­fied with Chris­tian­ity – 36% com­pared with 29% for Is­lam - and Dast­yari said it would be wrong to see it as a “Mus­lim voter” is­sue.

“The only de­mo­graphic in­di­ca­tor that mat­ters is eth­nic­ity, but it’s across the board –Mus­lim, the Cop­tics, Chris­tians, com­mu­ni­ties from mi­grant back­grounds con­trib­uted to vot­ing no,” he said.

“There’s ob­vi­ously a dis­con­nect be­tween tra­di­tional La­bor vot­ing ar­eas and pro­gres­sive is­sues like mar­riage equal­ity. None of this is a sur­prise to those of us in­volved in west­ern Syd­ney pol­i­tics for a long pe­riod of time but it’s re­minder that we have a di­verse range of views of peo­ple in our party.”

An Equal­ity Cam­paign spokesman, Alex Green­wich, ac­cused the no cam­paign of “strate­gic mis­in­for­ma­tion” tar­get­ing ar­eas with high mi­grant pop­u­la­tions. The Syd­ney­based Aus­tralian Chi­nese for Fam­i­lies As­so­ci­a­tion, for ex­am­ple, pub­lished pam­phlets in Chi­nese warn­ing that “re­defin­ing mar­riage will leave our so­ci­ety bear­ing se­vere con­se­quences”.

“Small busi­nesses will be hit with law­suits and strug­gle if they choose not to cater to same-sex wed­dings be­cause of their per­sonal re­li­gion,” one of the pam­phlets re­port­edly stated.

Green­wich said while some eth­ni­cally di­verse pop­u­la­tions may have voted no, he did not think it was an over­all in­di­ca­tion of mi­grant views. “I think it’s im­por­tant to note that a great num­ber of peo­ple in west­ern Syd­ney voted yes,” he said.

“Our ex­pe­ri­ence is that they value the fair go, and for us it’s quite clear that the mem­bers in those seats who do sup­port same-sex mar­riage need to take their con­stituents on a fur­ther jour­ney and talk about why it’s im­por­tant. If they vote yes, they have to ex­plain why it’s in line with their val­ues and Aus­tralian val­ues.”

For La­bor’s MPs in west­ern Syd­ney elec­torates who pub­licly sup­port same-sex mar­riage, that di­vide is all too real.

Michelle Row­land’s seat of Green­way in north-west Syd­ney cov­ers ar­eas in­clud­ing Black­town and Seven Hills. It recorded a 53.6% no vote from a 76.5% turnout.

She said the re­sult was “con­sis­tent with the re­sponses I have re­ceived in seek­ing my own feed­back from lo­cal res­i­dents over the past seven years. As I have said pre­vi­ously, I have thought deeply about this is­sue and widely can­vassed the views of lo­cal res­i­dents,” she said.

“I ac­knowl­edge that many res­i­dents have strong views one way or the other for or against mar­riage equal­ity based on fac­tors such as per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, re­li­gious be­liefs or cul­tural norms. Each and ev­ery one of those peo­ple should be re­spected for their views.

“Per­son­ally, a con­ver­sa­tion I had with a mother in Seven Hills pro­vided me with an im­por­tant per­spec­tive. Her son is on ac­tive ser­vice in the Aus­tralian navy and he wants to marry his part­ner. This man is putting his life on the line in ser­vice to Aus­tralia.

“Who am I, and who is any per­son, to say that this man should not be en­ti­tled to marry the per­son he loves?”

Sam Dast­yari with his mar­riage equal­ity cake. The NSW sen­a­tor ac­knowl­edges a dis­con­nect be­tween the party’s heart­land and its so­cially pro­gres­sive agenda. Pho­to­graph: Mike Bow­ers for the Guardian

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