Australia: Julia Gillard became the first Australian Prime Minister to visit a Sikh temple and her rock star reception in the party’s most marginal NSW seat would have pleased her Labor strategists.
The Blacktown seat of Greenway has one of the fastest growing Indian-Australian populations with nearly 12,000, 7.7 per cent, born in India, more than five times the national average.
Greenway MP Michelle Rowland, who is a regular at the Glenwood temple, holds the seat by just 1400 votes.
The Prime Minster was mobbed by the 1500-strong congregation as she toured the temple following a meeting with the Australian Sikh Association committee.
The committee raised issues ranging from the wearing of turbans with hard hats, restrictions wearing a short ceremonial sword, equivalent to a Christian cross, helping Sikh Australians get their piece of the mining boom through training and education and incorporating Punjabi into the education curriculum.
Ms Gillard spoke of the importance of education during her brief address.
“Michelle has been talking to me about coming out to the temple to say hello to the Sikh community and I’ve had a wonderful time,” she said.
“It’s a tremendous privilege to be the first prime minister to visit a Sikh temple, it shouldn’t have taken so long. I’ve learnt some valuable things and made some valuable friendships.”
Ms Gillard denied the visit was to court a vital voting bloc in the September election.
“I just very much enjoyed being here,” she said.
“Michelle is a wonderful representative for this area. Michelle is making sure I understand of the needs of the community here and the issues important to you.
“We understand the importance of this community to the future of western Sydney and the future of Australia.”
Ms Gillard’s Sikh Association guide Balvinder Singh Chahai said it was a big day for the organisation, which has more than 15,000 Sikhs attend each week.
“We are equal for all. If Tony Abbott comes tomorrow we will welcome him the same way. It’s a big day, an historic day for us,” he said.
The Sikhs gave Ms Gillard a $10,000 cheque for Westmead Children’s Hospital as well as framed photo of the Golden Temple in India, regarded as the Vatican of Sikhism.
Another committee member Dr Surinder Singh said the visit wouldn’t influence how the congregation might vote.
“I don’t so. I think people have made their minds up but it does affect some people,” he said.
Ms Rowland said her uphill battle to retain her seat wasn’t the reason for the prime minister’s visit before her Parramatta MP boot camp on Saturday.
“I think it sends a good message about inclusiveness and respect and recognising they’re a growing group. We are a really multicultural area and actions speak louder than words for the prime minister to come,” she said.
“She’s has had a long standing invitation to go for quite a while.”
1. First term Labor MP Michelle Rowland holds by 0.88 per cent, 1400 votes
2. Indian born residents make up 7.7 per cent
3. Hindi, Punjab and Tamil top three non-English languages spoken at home, nine times higher than the national average
4. Median personal and family incomes above national average