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Contenders seek attention in diverse seats

Locals in the western Sydney suburb of Harris Park, in the crucial multicultural federal seat of Parramatta, would rather talk paneer than politics.

Rahul Chopra, of Shri Refreshment Bar, tells AAP the Liberals are probably better for small businesses which are reeling from two years of pandemic trading conditions.

But Mr Chopra says he hasn’t heard of Liberals candidate Maria Kovacic, who is hoping to take the seat that Labor holds by 3.5 per cent. Following the retirement of MP Julie Owens, Labor is running former Kevin Rudd adviser Andrew Charlton for the marginal seat contest.

“I don’t know him and who put his picture there,” Mr Chopra tells AAP, referring to a poster of Dr Charlton plastered on his shop.

The battle by candidates to overcome electoral disinterest is looming as a major campaign issue this election, with neither the prime minister or opposition leader able to energise voters, according to polls.

This is especially true in Sydney’s western suburbs, which are among the most multicultural in the country with more than a third of the residents speaking a language other than English at home. Parramatta is one of five marginal seats in Sydney’s heavily populated west and its surrounds, making it a crucial area of interest for the major parties ahead of the May 21 election.

Boasting a mansion in the eastern suburbs, Dr Charlton has come under fire for being out of touch with residents.

Labor and Dr Charlton’s representatives did not respond to AAP’s interview requests.

The Liberal candidate, Ms Kovacic, whose parents migrated from Croatia to western Sydney, says her experience as a first generation migrant and business owner gives her a distinct advantage in connecting with locals feeling the economic pinch.

“What that gives me is a very deep insight and a very deep understanding of what it is to be a new migrant in this country,” she tells AAP.

“This is about giving back in a very genuine sense … to a community and a country that has given me opportunities”.

Down the road from the Shri Refreshment Bar, a gathering of boisterous men at a Lebanese sweet shop tell AAP they are voting Liberal in alignment with their socially conservative views and economic concerns.

But 82-year-old Moussa Nasr is a proud outlier.

“It’s a white donkey and a black donkey but in the end I’m going with the one I know best,” he told AAP while sipping on coffee in Harris Park.

“At least Labor has a program and cares about poor people, unlike the Liberals”.

Another Lebanese-Australian voter in his fifties, who did not want to be named, joked that Charlton had been parachuted into the seat via private jet.

“People like Andrew Charlton don’t live here and that means they don’t care about the constituents.

“There are better qualified people who can run for office that people can choose,” the small business owner says.

National Director of Democracy in Colour, Neha Madhok, says the Labor choice was symptomatic of a diversity blind-spot across all political parties.

The advocacy group campaigns for multicultural representation across all levels of Australian politics.

First-time voter and Parramatta resident Peoly Gunaratne hadn’t heard of Dr Charlton but said she would vote for Anthony Albanese on the ballot to push the Liberals out.

“We need someone who will support all those people, especially the lower earners and funding community facilities,” says the 20-year-old university student.

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