Growing tension between the Chinese and Australian governments over allegations of undue political influence has filtered into coverage of the Bennelong byelection in Chinese-Australian media, potentially hurting the Liberal Party’s chances in Saturday’s knife-edge poll.
As attacks by the Coalition on Sam Dastyari over his association with Chinese government-linked donors ramped up over the past few days, the People’s Daily, a major Chinese state-controlled outlet, took a hard line against the Australian government, publishing an opinion piece on Monday decrying the debate as racist and urging the government and media to “discard their political biases and prejudices.”
After that piece was published, the tone of coverage of the byelection rapidly began to change in Australian-based Chinese media. That coverage may prove crucial in the election on Saturday, as Bennelong has the highest percentage of Chinese-Australians of any seat in the country.
Hours after the People’s Daily piece ran, Sydney Today, one of Sydney’s largest online Chinese media outlets, described Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull “standing at the front line of anti-Chinese sentiment”.
An online poll of the Chinese community seen on Monday by Fairfax Media indicates Labor’s candidate, former NSW premier Kristina Keneally, holds a large lead over the Liberals’ John Alexander, drawing 66 percent of the votes.
The ongoing poll is being circulated on the popular Chinese social media app WeChat by Sing Tao Daily, the largest Chinese newspaper in Sydney, and ends on Thursday.
Also on Tuesday, the ACTU ran an advertisement in Sydney Today – a large online Chinese media outlet – calling on constituents to “stop the unfair citizenship test, and criticising a proposal to require prospective citizens to have resided in Australia for four years instead of one year. The advertisement, authorised by ACTU secretary Sally McManus, also struck out at perceived closeness between the Liberal Party and One Nation, claiming “their political positions are extremely similar”.
The government had tried to toughen citizenship requirements, adding a more difficult English test, but the legislation was blocked in the Senate.
On Monday, Ms Keneally said Chinese and Korean Australians she had spoken with were becoming alarmed by the Liberal Party rhetoric.
“They see it as China-phobia,” she said. “They see it as scaremongering. They see the suggestion from the Prime Minister that people from Chinese or Asian backgrounds are somehow suspicious and they don’t like it.”
Though Ms Keneally has been seen to be running behind Mr Alexander, a poll published by News Corp on Tuesday suggested that the race had closed to a dead heat.