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Australian politicians vie for multicultural seats
Australia may be hurtling towards an election in which the question of asylum seekers is a bitterly fought issue, but in several seats the result could be decided by voters born overseas.

Political editor Catherine McGrath reports from Bennelong in Sydney.
JIM MIDDLETON, PRESENTER: Australia may be hurtling towards an election in which the question of asylum seekers is a bitterly fought issue, but in several seats the result could be decided by voters born overseas.

One of those is Bennelong in Sydney, once held by John Howard.

It is a relatively affluent electorate reflecting the changing face of Australian society - many of its voters are Chinese and Korean Australians.

Political editor Catherine McGrath reports from Bennelong.

CATHERINE MCGRATH, REPORTER: Welcome to the suburb of Eastwood in Sydney where the population has been transformed over the last 30 years. Eastwood has long been a home for migrants, first Italian and now Chinese. Here almost one in five voters in the Federal Election come from a Chinese background, and many other residents were born or have families in other Asian countries.

Eastwood is a suburb in the constituency known as Bennelong that lies in Sydney's north-west, close to the city's geographic centre. Once a safe seat now it's considered marginal and a key battle in the 2013 election.

The sitting member is Opposition MP John Alexander, once a famous Australian tennis player lured to politics after a career in business. His opponent is Jason Yat sen Li, a prominent young Australian of Chinese heritage, who was asked at the last minute by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to take on the seat after an earlier candidate became involved in a corruption inquiry.

John Alexander is courting all votes, including in the Chinese community, and Jason Li is hoping his heritage will help make it a tight contest.

In Bennelong it's no dispute that the Chinese vote is important. If a candidate doesn't take it into account, they've got no chance, as then member, former prime minister John Howard, discovered to his peril in 2007.

(Footage of John Howard and Maxine McKew in 2007 plays)

In that election John Howard lost the seat because a large group of Chinese voters campaigned for his rival, Labor candidate Maxine McKew. Next time around Maxine McKew was voted out.

Hugh Lee is a prominent member of the Chinese community. He was part of the group that supported Maxine McKew in 2007, but he switched his support to John Alexander.

HUGH LEE, CHINESE COMMUNITY: Maxine McKew, yeah, we support her initially, not because of her, herself, but because we worked against John Howard. For the last three years, John has been Bennelong's seat member, and he has been very hard working and mixes with the community. We believe that he is really a good MP for the area, not only for the Chinese community but for overall he has done a great job really.

JOHN ALEXANDER, LIBERAL PARTY MEMBER FOR BENNELONG: The Chinese community at large has a lot of people involved in small business, and they really are going through a period of time where it has been tough for small business. And so I think they appreciate the party that's going to reduce regulation, reduce costs.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: John Alexander says he picked up a lot of the Chinese vote in 2010, but he believes it wasn't the only factor in the win.


MAN: Yeah, it's good.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Jason Li is a last minute candidate. Just six weeks ago he was running his own business in Beijing.

JASON YAT-SEN LI: I was involved in politics before, not mainstream party politics but more we were involved in the Republican movement and anti-racism campaigns. So I've always had the interest there. And so after this career in business I felt now is the time to give back to the community and get involved in public life again.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: He's on the campaign trail with his team of supporters and dad George, who migrated to Australia from Hong Kong at the age of 19.

I asked George why he thought so few Chinese Australians were involved in politics.

GEORGE LI, CANDIDATE'S FATHER: Mainly I think it is the Chinese culture, you know. They rather do business than dabble in politics, but nowadays with the younger ones coming up, that wheel is changing. And many of them run for the city council positions, state government positions.

JASON YAT-SEN LI: I think it is helpful that I have a Chinese background or an Asian background, but it certainly doesn't guarantee just because I look Chinese somebody is going to vote for me. The Chinese community is very diverse. They have strong political views. So we don't take any of that for granted.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: This electorate isn't just about the Chinese vote. Essentially, this is middle Australia. Jason Li says he wants to make Bennelong the silicone valley of Australia, and he has had Prime Minister Rudd on hand to announce high tech plans.

(Footage of Kevin Rudd in Bennelong plays)

Kevin Rudd has already visited the seat twice. It was on a separate visit to Bennelong that Kevin Rudd was upstaged by young Korean-Australian Joseph who, clearly amused, stole the limelight and his photo went viral on the internet.

(Photograph of Kevin Rudd being photobombed by Joseph)

WOMAN AT FRONT DOOR: It's, really, really bad.

JOHN ALEXANDER (to woman): Well people coming out of here into Carlingford Road, it takes 10 to 15 minutes.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: John Alexander is campaigning on issues like the cost of living and the local concerns. His son Charlie has been with him every day.

CHARLIE ALEXANDER, CANDIDATE'S SON: I was happy to get on board and help you out as much as I could.

CATHERINE MCGRATH: Neither candidate is prepared to predict the outcome.
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