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The Australian Jewish vote 2013: Will Melbourne Ports continue to be the exception to the rule?

August 29, 2013 – 10:14 am23 Comments

 By Philip Mendes

danby2It is generally accepted, albeit without firm empirical evidence, that a clear majority of Australian Jews vote conservative. This preference allegedly dates back to 1974 when the Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam abandoned his Party’s traditional pro-Israel record, and did so in a manner that was highly insensitive to Jewish concerns. Equally, most Australian Jews fall into the higher income brackets, and Coalition low taxation policies typically favour their class interests. Additionally, the Coalition has since September 2001 become an increasingly uncritical supporter of Israeli government policies.

The presumed Jewish-Coalition alignment seems to be confirmed in the little we know about Jewish voting patterns. Jews comprise a tiny percentage (about 0.5) of the overall population estimated at 105,000-112,000 persons, and constitute more than three per cent of voters in only five federal seats: Wentworth (12.5), Melbourne Ports (11.8), Goldstein (7.8), Higgins (4.7), and Kingsford Smith (3.3). Bradfield (2.9) and Hotham (2.7) sit just below that figure.

In the 2010 federal election, the Liberals gained swings in all the non-Victorian seats. The swings in both Kingsford Smith (8.10 per cent) and Wentworth (11.01 per cent) were well above the overall state swing of 4.84 per cent to the Coalition in NSW. Conversely, the ALP achieved a swing in its favour of 0.71 per cent in Melbourne Ports which was, nevertheless, just below the overall state swing of 1.04 per cent to the ALP in Victoria. Overall, the two-party preferred vote for the ALP in Melbourne Ports was 57.15 compared to 42.85 per cent for the Liberal candidate.

On the surface, it appears surprising that the ALP retains Melbourne Ports. The electorate includes a number of affluent suburbs, and the Liberals comfortably hold the adjoining State seat, and also score considerably higher than the ALP in the federal Senate vote. One important factor here is that the long-time pro-Israel ALP member, Michael Danby, appears to be popular with many Jewish voters. Conversely, the Liberals, with the arguable exception of the current State MP for Caulfield David Southwick in 2004, have chosen a succession of very poor candidates. It seems surprising that none of the high-profile elected Jewish members of the local Glen Eira City Council have sought Liberal pre-selection. A further factor is that the Greens, who secured 20.66 per cent of the primary vote in 2010, have consistently sent most of their preferences to the ALP. Barring a change in preference allocation, the ALP will most likely continue to hold the seat.

From a shtetl perspective it seems that the ALP has retained the seat because a significant number of Jewish voters are guided by their values, rather than by economic self-interest. This does not mean that most Jews even in Melbourne Ports vote Labor or Greens. To the contrary, the Liberals won five of the seven booths with large Jewish populations in the 2010 election. But it appears that a larger number of affluent Jews compared to others of the same socio-economic status vote for non-conservative parties.

To be sure, we know little about the particular values that Jewish voters hold dear. It is likely, however, that those who vote Labor or Greens are influenced by the following:

  1. The Coalition’s hardline approach to asylum seekers, although the current ALP Government also favours off-shore processing;

  2. Tony Abbott’s record of opposition to abortion, although some figures in the Labor Right also oppose women’s right to choose;

  3. The alignment of Tony Abbott and some other Coalition leaders with religious fundamentalism, and a more general concern about protecting the separation of religion and state;

  4. Concerns about the Coalition’s neo-liberal views on poverty and inequality, although Labor’s refusal to increase the New Start Allowance and its extension of the controversial Compulsory Income Management program suggest it is moving rapidly in the same direction;

  5. The Coalition’s opposition to same-sex marriage, although Labor is heavily divided on this issue.

  6. The Coalition’s semi-denialist approach to tackling climate change, albeit Labor also seems ambivalent about taking action;

  7. The Coalition’s negative attitude to Indigenous rights, although Labor’s record is also less than impressive.

  8. The likelihood that the Coalition will reintroduce the repressive Work Choices legislation under a new guise, whereas Labor can at least be relied on to protect workers rights.

The associated question is which values take precedence? For example, some Jewish voters will favour a pro-Israel candidate regardless of their views on the range of social and economic issues canvassed above. This may then lower what might potentially otherwise be a significant Jewish vote for the Greens because they are regarded as unfairly critical of Israel although to be sure the current leader Christine Milne has tried to modify that perception. Others may regard Israel as only one of several issues influencing their vote, and may lean towards the Greens whose views on many issues appear to be more progressive than those of the ALP. And some particularly left-leaning Jewish voters may even prefer to support a candidate who is not an unqualified supporter of Israel.

Associate Professor Philip Mendes is the Director of the Social Inclusion and Social Policy Research Unit (SISPRU) in the Department of Social Work at Monash University, and also holds an Honorary Position with the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation. His analysis of the Jewish vote in the 2010 federal election was published as ‘The Jewish Community and the 2010 Federal Election” in People and Place, 18/4 (2010), 3-12 – Philip.Mendes@monash.edu

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  • letters in the age says:

    I know Jews who will vote for the Australian Sex Party this election.

    They fall into the 25-35 year old age bracket.

    (Most have married out of the Jewish clique.)

    Many minor parties also have libertarian values like the Liberal party and a younger demographic are sick of the same old parties.

  • David Schulberg says:

    THE important factor here is the long-time pro-Israel Jewish ALP member, Michael Danby. Many who will vote against Labour in the Senate will vote for Danby in the House of Representatives. It demonstrates loyalty and a wish to support the tribe.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Unless Dr Mendes is collating data on the actual votes of Jewish people in these electorates I’m uncertain as to how much of this piece is anything other than supposition and unverifiable inference/suggestion?

  • Interesting article. Regarding point 1, I think that unfortunately the current ALP asylum seeker policy is if anything worse than the coalition policy. Choosing among offshore destinations (given that all options are bad), PNG may well be the worst possible place in the Asia-Pacific region to send people, particularly with regard to infectious diseases although violence may also be a factor.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Rachel S-D

    Disagree – North Korea would be worse.

  • Yes, I didn’t think of North Korea. Perhaps you could suggest it to Rudd. He might take you up on it.

  • letters in the age says:

    Upper middle class Australians are more concerned about the Asylum Seeker issue.

    It’s even scarier in Russia where Mr Putin is blatantly targeting minorities like the gays…

    The Orthodox Community in the Diaspora is getting more extreme.


    I hate to admit it but there are similarities between playing VERY nasty, politics between our two countries.

    Fascism anyone…??

  • Mark Smith says:

    Most of Danbys vote comes from the Albert Park end of the electorate and Green prefeences. Caulfield is predominantly Liberal. Those that still vote Danby are rusted on Danby supporters. In 2004 there was a big move in Caulfield booths from Danby to Liberal and it has stayed that way. Anyone who changes their vote from ALP to Lib now on the basis of the ALP’s less enthusiastic stand on Israel’s policies has been living under a rock for the last decade.

  • MargB says:

    The ALP’s abandonment of social justice issues (such as humane treatment of refugees) is likely to alienate many of their long-time Jewish supporters. The more conservative ones will vote Liberal; the more liberal (pun intended) will move to the Greens. Unlike his predecessor Clyde Holding, I don’t think Danby has the strong personal following that he likes to pretend he has. He is perceived as being first and foremost a political animal. With Jews making up a significant bloc in his seat, it is politically easier for him to stand up on pro-Israel isues than if he were the member for Ballarat (for example). This does not take away from what he has achieved! But I would argue then non-Jewish State member Helen Shardey did more for the Jewish community than Danby has.

    The Liberal’s treatment of the seat of Melbourne Poirts has been nothing short of unfathonable. They had a real chance to grab it when Holding retired if they had put up an intelligent personable small ‘l’ Liberal candidate such as Southwick. Instead they went with Sneddon and enabled Danby to secure his grip on the seat.

  • letters in the age says:

    Marg and Mark,

    I agree with your analysis there.

    The small “l” liberals are not allowed in the party room anymore, it’s been taken over by conservatives.

    It is not really a broad church anymore after Ted left politics in Victoria.

  • Mark Smith says:

    Its not the party room that is relevant but the pre-selecters, that being, ordinary the members of the party. Generally speaking, the Liberal members are more conservative than the general public. This results in more conservative MPs from the Liberal side of politics. It’s a general rule with many exceptions and one needs to differentiate between social and economic conservatives. People like Turnbull, Pyne and Brandis are considered small L liberal/progressive on social issues but economic dries. Many National Party members are conservative socially but economically quite interventionist. There are a lot of grey’s. Its always easier to be black and white but it rarely is correct.

  • The current Liberal candidate for Melbourne Ports appears to be a small L liberal.

  • srsly says:

    So insane that people will vote solely in line with a party’s Israel policy. The three main parties all support a two state solution, albeit with different levels of criticism for the Netanyahu government, but in the end there is little difference. And even if (and this won’t happen) we were to have a government that did heavily criticise the Israeli government, the world would be no different. Our lives would be no different. Israeli lives would be no different. The UN would look no different. It’s such an insignificant policy area, I can’t believe people are arrogant enough to put it at the forefront.

    (not to mention the tens of millions of dollars funded into the Australian Israel lobby by the wealthy members of our community. Imagine if this money was going to Israeli charities instead.)

  • Doodie Ringelblum says:

    Phillip’s analysis of “Issues for Jews” is an interesting take on the subject. Interestingly, the front cover of today’s Australian Jewish News offers a completely different one.

    According to the scorecard criteria given by the paper – support for Israel, visas for Israelis, Hizb Ut-Tahrir, school issues, BDS are the issues facing the Jewish electorate. Health, same-sex marriage, asylum seeker policy, IR policy, aged care, defence and economic management are not mentioned as issues for the Jewish electorate.

    I don’t dare judge which analysis of “the Jewish voter” is correct. No doubt – in different circles – they both are.

  • VOTEEkendahl says:

    Vote for Kevin Ekendahl in Melbourne Ports he means business.

    He supports same sex marriage, small business, and is jewish too.

    he’s go my vote but if you can’t vote Liberal at least make sure you put Danby last on preferences. You can’t trust Danby.

  • Philip Mendes says:

    Voteekendahl: is there anything your candidate can’t do? Maybe he should run as Superendahl.

  • Reallity Check says:

    Ms VoteEkendahl, if Kev is Jewish why does he speak about his Jewish heritage and not just say that he is Jewish? Most of the world population can claim to have Jewish heritage. And how is he going to serve the Jewish community by removing a law that makes insulting, humiliating and intimidating Jews going to serve us? Don’t take us for fools, please.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    Doodie I agree that the issues highlighted by the AJN are not the ones on which most Jews will vote – but maybe those are the issues that Jews will vote on that are specifically Jewish interest issues. There are lots of other forums and publications which canvass the key issues – stable government, economic management, education funding, climate change as well as less core issues (in terms of their impact) but which many Australians (not just Jews) feel very strongly about: asylum seekers, same sex marriage…

    Let’s hope the thinking in the AJN was to highlight those that are unlikely to be canvassed elsewhere… But it was an odd selection as you could say that the asylum seeker issue has particular relevance and resonance in the Jewish community…

    Anyway I heard Kevin Ekendahl speak today. He said on a number of issues that he holds very different views to his party’s policies. I am troubled by a candidate’s willingness to stand for a party where the leader and majority of parliamentarians held views on fundamental ethical and humanitarian issues which he says he finds problematic. I understand it’s a kind of (small l) liberal thing – that a range of views are possible within one party. But to me the dissonance is too strong to find that compelling.

    He is impressive and presents well but I suspect when all is said and done he’s more Liberal Party than liberal.

  • letters in the age says:


    Trolling here by Liberals now.

    How’s that q and a episode with Shorten and Kelly O Dwyer to you dear troller??

    Lets not mention that right wing nut and the baby comment.


  • letters in the age says:

    Jew of convenience need not apply…


    Mark…you are correct…of course there is grey but we might see Pauline Hanson in parliament over Sinodinos.

    The system needs changing as Anthony Green says.

  • Reallity Check says:

    Jew of convience? What the hell does that mean? I only wish the Jews of Europe in the 1930′ s could also have been, or not, been Jews of convenience. They ended up Jews of in convience.

  • Eliezer says:

    A lot of the claims in the article by Phillip Mendes are purely speculative and unsubstantiated, but at least one thing is glaringly clear, and that is how HE will vote. The tendentious language, always choosing highly negative terminology for Liberal policies, gives the bias away. He clearly wants to push his outlook and have readers see things just his way. In this view, at least half of Australian society is bad or mad. Specifically, any Jews who vote Liberal are according to him just cruel, immoral, and selling out their true Jewish (i.e., socialist) principles for A, selfish class warfare interests if they are better off themselves, B, pure immoral indifference and ignorance if they are not amongst the well-off. They are against the working class, they are against the Aborigines, they are “denialists” akin to Holocaust denial on climate change issues, they are against women and abortion, they are against homosexuality and same-sex marriage, they are (gasp!) Orthodox Jews and therefore “religious fundamentalists” who are against secularism itself, and above all they are against the poor suffering illegals that somehow just happened to have passed loads of insufficiently wealthy Muslim countries in desperate search for refuge at any price here, claiming refugee identities while mysteriously losing all their travel documents minutes before being picked up by our coast guard. Economic issues affecting the entire Australian people, at which Labor has overwhelmingly failed, trust issues, where Labor has set new records for dishonesty and unreliability, and manifest abandonment of the consensus support for Israel, and the far better record on all these matters of the Liberal Party, all have nothing to do with voting against the Labor Party, according to Mendes.

  • letters in the age says:

    Hello Reality,

    Please refrain from using profanities . it’s really beneath you and this wonderful blog.


    Obama is an African-American and proud of his heritage.

    I would consult a socioligist to answer your question in greater details as my time is precious this week.

    Mandi is correct, the token gay is always used for political purposes just like The Greeks, Italians and Jews were many years ago by the major parties.

    The sad reality is that the M.S.M has become a joke thus blogs like this have taken over and will thrive.

    Huffington Post has been successful and newspapers have been read by fewer and fewer people since 2007.

    Who really reads the A.j.n these days…wake up!!

    The shallow nature of journalism in this country and the repugnant bias towards The Liberal party is getting to be extremely silly.

    This election i am voting AGAINST the media as well as the status quo.

    Bollocks to the fourth estate!!

    We don’t deserve another Labour party but we deserve much better than Tony Abbott as a leader.

    (I don’t want a creepy old weird Uncle as our representative.)

    Libs need a spill to replace him with Malcolm Turnball

    Have a great week Heebs and be proud to be a citizen that has the privilege to vote in one of the best countries in the world!!



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