CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The previous Australian government’s stance against a more aggressive China drove away many Chinese-Australian voters at recent elections who considered the administration’s language had licensed racism, a campaign strategist said on Wednesday.
Former Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition government lost elections last month after almost a decade in power to the center-left Labor Party.
Labor’s campaign director Paul Erickson on Wednesday blamed coalition rhetoric on China for significant vote swings toward Labor in electorates with large Chinese-Australian populations.
“The feedback that we got was that there was a view that the government’s response to the more aggressive and assertive behavior of the Chinese Communist Party and the government in Beijing came across in the community actually at times as an attack on Chinese-Australians or rhetoric that licensed racism in the community,” Erickson told the National Press Club.
Of Australia’s population of 25 million, 1.2 million have Chinese ancestry, according to the most recent census.
Senior figures in the coalition government had argued that Beijing had wanted Labor to win the election because Labor lawmakers were less likely to stand up for Australian interests against Chinese economic coercion.
A conservative lobby group Advance Australia had displayed ads on the sides of trucks during the election campaign that depicted Chinese President Xi Jinping casting a vote with the slogan: “CCP says vote Labor.”
Morrison had labeled Labor’s deputy leader Richard Marles “the Manchurian candidate,” the title of a 1959 novel about the son of a prominent U.S. political family who is brainwashed by Chinese authorities to become an unwitting assassin.
Senior ministers also had pointed to China and the Solomon Islands announcing a security pact during the campaign as an attempt to undermine the coalition’s reelection chances.
Labor described the pact as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II. New Foreign Minister Penny Wong will fly to the Solomons on Friday in an attempt to improve bilateral ties.
Former Defense Minister Peter Dutton, who since the election has replaced Morrison as leader of the conservative Liberal Party, argued during the campaign that pro-Labor communication on the Chinese social media platform WeChat was evidence that Beijing wanted the government to change.
Maree Ma, general manager of Vision Times, a leading Chinese-language Australian media outlet, said WeChat exchanges were more positive toward Labor than they had been in the last election in 2019.
Ma told Australian Broadcasting Corp. a week before the election: “A lot of the articles are playing on how Labor will be more friendly towards China, which may or may not be the case in reality.”
Ma said soured Sino-Australian relations and concerns over China’s pact with the Solomons were not major election issues for Chinese-Australians.
“The vast majority of the Chinese community here doesn’t really have much to do with the Chinese government and what they really care about is everything that the other English-speaking voters care about which is who can run the country better; it’s about jobs, the economy,” Ma said.