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  • John McDonnell

Disaffected groups may deliver victory for Labor

The government is having problems managing its relations with three disaffected groups: women, the Indian and the Chinese diasporas. This constitutes a major threat to the Coalition’s chances at the next election.

The Morrison government will start its attempt to gain a fourth term in office three seats away from majority government because of redistributions. The loss of an additional three seats because of disgruntled women, Indian Australians or Chinese Australians would make the task nigh impossible.

Scott Morrison has gone some way to repairing the government’s relations with women, but much will depend on how they are treated in the budget. Women are looking for reparation for what is perceived as an entrenched disadvantage. There are three areas where women are looking for a response from the government: childcare, aged care and parental leave.

Labor is offering what amounts to near-universal, free childcare. However, it is limited to women who work. There is demand for more childcare for women who don’t work, particularly those from disadvantaged socio-economic cohorts. The government has a more limited childcare proposal than Labor, which is limited to second and third children, where the mother is undertaking work. It is likely that women will mark the government down when they compare the policies.

Twice as many women as men end up in aged care. Currently, working-age women will be looking to the government to provide aged care that provides them with a reasonable quality of life as they grow older. It is doubtful that the government’s commitment of $10 billion over four years will be enough to guarantee this.

Better parental leave is seen as essential to improve the working lives of women. Among the demands is payment at their current rate of pay and the maintenance of superannuation contributions during the leave period. Ironically, Labor is promising to implement the scheme developed by Tony Abbott, which proposed to pay for parental leave at the current rate of pay. Labor derided the Abbott scheme as payments for the rich when he was prime minister however the adoption of it now will be positive for them when it comes to the women’s vote.

There is no doubt that the government botched the pause on the repatriation of Indian Australians. The press release announcing the pause was bound to draw attention. It came out at midnight, contained a scant explanation of the reasons for the pause and put great emphasis on the heavy penalties for breaches of the bio-security order. This served to make Indian Australians feel as if they were pariahs in their adopted country.

The government has now announced a plan for the repatriation of Australians currently in India, to be implemented when the pause is over, but it may be too little too late to win back Indian Australian voters.

Chinese Australians are distressed by the deteriorating relations between their adopted country and their mother country. They view the administrative decisions that negatively affect Chinese interests in Australia as being arbitrary and demeaning for a country where most of their family currently lives and feels comfortable.

On Thursday, the Chinese government suspended an economic cooperation agreement with Australia because of ‘the cold war mentality of some Australian authorities’. This will upset Chinese Australians who want peaceful, predictable and respectful relations between the two countries.

Chinese Australians are already predisposed to vote for Labor and it is likely that more of them will support the opposition if the government continues its hawkish approach to relations with Asia’s greatest power.


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