Vic Meli’s parents left war-torn Malta for a better life in Australia when he was just a toddler.
But growing up in suburban Sydney as a migrant child in the 1950s was challenging.
“Australia was very racist, the polite ones called us new Australians – the others just called us wogs,” he said.
Mr Meli is now among a growing number of migrants voting for One Nation.
ABC analysis of voting trends and Census data has revealed last election, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) polled strongly in electorates with the highest percentage of migrants in Australia, despite campaigning against further immigration.
When asked why a migrant was voting for a party that has been outspoken against some immigrants, Mr Meli said he was protective of his country.
“Migrants are not migrants after they come here, they are new Australians,” he said.
“And if they waited a long time in a queue and went through lots of steps — how do you think they feel about a so-called queue-jumper?
“They don’t like it.”
Migrants critical of Labor’s social policies
Mr Meli lives in Fairfield, which sits in the federal electorate of McMahon, in Sydney’s west.
Half of voters in the area are migrants, predominately Christians from the Middle East.
In the last federal election, One Nation picked up more than 8 per cent of the vote, while the UAP gained almost 4 per cent.
Labor suffered a swing of more than 7 per cent on primary votes.
It was a similar story in other diverse electorates.
Take nearby Chifley, where more than 45 per cent of voters are migrants from countries like the Philippines and India. Here, the UAP picked up almost 5 per cent of the vote.
Labor’s primary vote was down almost 7 per cent here also.
In the Melbourne seat of Calwell, where 43 per cent of voters are migrants from countries like Turkey and Iraq, the UAP picked up almost 4 per cent of the vote, while Labor lost almost 5 per cent of its primary vote.
ABC chief elections analyst Antony Green said it was difficult to tell from demographics whether the vote for One Nation and UAP was coming from the migrants or native-born Australians in the electorates.
“If you think of One Nation entirely as a party about race and immigration, you’d wonder why it would do so well in a seat like McMahon,” he said.
“But it’s also a protest party. People are voting for the party as a protest against other major parties. It’s a sign of the breakdown of our party system in this country.”
Mr Meli said he had not thought about changing political sides until recently.
“If you lived in the western suburbs and you were a new Australian — Labor was your party of choice because they protected the worker,” he said.
“That’s how it was, nothing else was considered.”
Vic Meli says One Nation has heard his concerns in a way the major parties haven’t. (ABC News: Stephanie Dalzell)
Then came the same-sex marriage debate.
“I can tell you now, when those idiots went into some mass hysteria in Parliament House, our blood curdled, especially when local MPs, who knew we were opposed to that bullshit, voted for it,” Mr Meli said.
“We didn’t move, Labor did. We stuck to the same values.”
Mr Meli said One Nation’s policies, which include a call for greater assimilation of migrants and cut in immigration numbers, resonated with him.
“What Pauline has said, if you come to Australia — be Aussie,” he said.
The ABC spoke to other migrants in western Sydney who supported One Nation.
All of them said they were scared to go on the record because of the potential for public backlash, but said they saw One Nation as the only way to protect Christian values in Australia.
Pauline Hanson has long spoken out about Australia’s immigration policies. (ABC News: Adam Kennedy)
Hanson insists she’s reflecting community concerns
Pauline Hanson has been outspoken on immigration issues since she entered Parliament.
She used her maiden speech in 1996 to call for a reduction in Australia’s migrant intake, declaring Australia was at risk of being “swamped by Asians”.
She echoed those comments two decades later when she entered the Senate, saying Australia was in danger of “being swamped by Muslims who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own”.
More recently, she has called for a US-style travel ban against countries that are “known sources of radicalism”.
However, the One Nation leader said she was not against immigration.
“The perception was I was anti-immigration, that’s never been the case,” Senator Hanson told the ABC.
Pauline Hanson attended Our Lady of Lebanon Co-Cathedral on Good Friday during the election campaign. (Facebook)
“I’ve always said you bring in people into the country but make sure you have the facilities, the infrastructure in place before you invite more people into Australia.”
Senator Hanson also attributed her support in migrant communities to her outspoken nature.
“I say what a lot of Australians haven’t got the guts to come out and say.”
Western Sydney Women director Amanda Rose said many migrants in the area were not even focused on the leader’s immigration policy
She said their priorities were jobs, education and providing for their families.
“She can go anywhere in Australia and she’ll find her people,” Ms Rose said.
“People will at least look at her and say, ‘I know what you stand for, I’ll either back you or not back you’ and you can’t get that with the two major parties the majority of the time.”
One Nation a party of ‘disappointed conservatives’
If they are focused on her immigration policy, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Technology Sydney Andrew Jakubowicz said many migrants were supportive.
He said while Asian and Muslim communities might feel isolated by Senator Hanson’s rhetoric on migration, other groups were on board.
“One Nation is a party essentially of the disappointed conservatives,” Professor Jakubowicz said.
“What they’re looking for is a party who will articulate their sense of frustrated desire.”
Dai Le is a Liberal-turned-independent local government councillor in western Sydney. (ABC News: Stephanie Dalzell)
Former Liberal candidate Dai Le, who is now an independent councillor in Fairfield, said she first became aware of Senator Hanson’s support among her community at the last election, when people asked for One Nation how-to-vote cards.
“In south-west Sydney, the majority are non-English speaking, 50 per cent are born overseas, and who really represents them?” she said.
“The population and constituents are now questioning the representation of the major parties, and any minor parties, who actually stand up and voice different perspective and do not talk in the same language, have a different language, a different perspective on society, on social issues, on economic issues.
“The voters are ready for that.”
Pauline Hanson effect politically significant
Mr Green said while One Nation only holds two Senate seats, Senator Hanson’s power was still politically significant.
“I think the concern for the Labor party is if they lose support to One Nation, which is what appeared to happen in a couple of Western Sydney seats, those people might be on the way to vote for the Liberal Party instead,” he said.
“What you’re seeing is a loosening of the ties.”
But political science lecturer from Sydney University Shaun Ratcliff said it was important to remember part of One Nation’s success in 2019 was because the party ran more candidates than previously.
He said different migrant groups voted for all sorts of parties, and those who voted for One Nation were typically motivated by economic insecurity and immigration policies.
“Plenty of research has shown some people that were part of earlier groups that arrived a few decades ago, for instance, were not necessarily supportive of new groups from different parts of the world coming to Australia.”
Peter Khalil has coffee with Charlie Elrahi in a Lebanese café in Coburg. (ABC News: Cameron Best)
Labor and Liberal politicians admit they need to do more
Further south in Melbourne’s inner-north, Egyptian-Australian Labor MP Peter Khalil said he believed his party needed to better engage migrant voters.
“I’m going to be very straightforward — which is unusual for a politician — but I have, for many years, said we cannot take for granted, multicultural communities,” he said.
“Yes, they’ve always been big supporters of the Labor party but that doesn’t just happen automatically.”
The Member for Wills did not suffer any backlash in his own diverse electorate and is now part of a new multicultural Labor committee set-up to examine the issue.
“We have a job to make sure we are constantly finding ways to address the needs of these communities to make sure they feel like they’re being represented,” he said.
Peter Khalil talks to locals Sarah and Samuel Abdelsayed, with their baby son Boaz, on the streets of his electorate. (ABC News: Cameron Best)
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz said the rise of support for One Nation was a concern.
“It’s a lesson to both major parties that you’ve got to be in touch with the mainstream, but also be concerned about some of the issues that the politically correct and elites within our community don’t necessarily want to talk about,” he said.
“We’ve got to reach out to every sector within the community.
“We do it well but accept at all times we can do better.”
For Vic Meli, One Nation has heard his concerns in a way the major parties never have.
“Us wogs made Australia a better place,” he said.
“We don’t want to see it buggered up.”