In the Yang household in Mulgrave, the alarm sounds at 4 am on weekends and Xin Yang is soon on empty roads heading to the Ventura bus depot at Dandenong to begin his shift.
The 52-year-old Chinese immigrant, who arrived in Australia in 1996, only recently moved into one of the most hotly contested electorates in the country.
Yang’s wife, Jizhong Pan is also Australian Chinese, arriving in Melbourne in 1985 with her parents. She met Yang on a trip back to China, they fell in love and in 1996, they decided to settle down in Melbourne together.
Last year, the couple sold their Dandenong home, where they raised children Jennifer, 21, Cindy, 18 and 16-year-old Andy, and moved to Maygrove Way in a quiet neighbourhood near the southern boundary of Chisholm.
Data from the 2016 census indicates that 14.2% of Chisholm’s residents were born in China, and that 15.6% speak Mandarin: Yang and his wife are among them.
Both parents speak English and Mandarin at home. “When we were kids, it was exclusively Mandarin, but when we grew up and went to schools, we started to learn English, and now we do mix,” Jennifer Yang says.
Yang has turned his hand to a variety of jobs, including in manufacturing, and ran a fish and chip shop before becoming a bus driver two years ago, preferring the weekend and early morning shifts.
“I think being a bus driver has good pay, and it suits what I need for my life. I enjoy driving around to different places and meeting different people … sometimes I drive past Chadstone and keep going to the Caulfield station,” he says.
As a bus driver, Yang always looks after his passengers, “particularly for the vulnerable people like disabled people and older people, I am always willing and happy to give them a hand and make them happy”.
When Yang first voted in an Australian election, his approach was to choose MPs with a Chinese background. But his thinking and practice on this have changed.
“I felt closer to MPs who can speak fluent Mandarin, but later on, I realised that MPs with a Chinese background won’t necessarily look after people who are Australian Chinese.”
He recalls the federal election of 2013: Labor’s Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd, recently reinstalled as Prime Minister, campaigned unsuccessfully against the Liberal Party’s Tony Abbott. “As a Chinese, I was really happy to see that the leader could speak fluent Chinese,” Yang says.
Over the years, he has voted both Labor and Liberal. “I think it very much depends on your class. I voted for the Labor Party when I was working in the manufacturing industry as it would look after the ordinary workers more, but I changed to Liberal Party after I had my own small business,” he says.
One of the big issues weighing on him this election is the price of housing. He wants his children to be able to afford a home one day, but is worried that the prospect is slipping away unless they have careers that bring in big salaries.
Back in 1998, Yang paid $150,000 for his first home, a townhouse in Dandenong. Last year, he sold it for $695,000.
“Back in the days, even though I received a low salary, I was still able to afford a house. After all these years have passed, the house prices kept increasing,” he says.
Yang said when he first entered the real estate market, governments offered breaks and subsidies to make housing more affordable. But he’s skeptical of that approach.
“The issues were that, for example, when the government subsidised you with $25,000, the seller immediately raised the price by $25,000,” Yang says.
“I don’t know what to say. Whenever a policy comes, you know what will happen after the implementation. I don’t know what these politicians really want to do,” he says.
“Are they really helping people, or is it just a smokescreen for charging higher stamp duty?”
This continues our special election series talking to voters in the hyper-marginal suburban seat of Chisholm, in Melbourne’s southeast. The Chisholm’s Choice series is a collaboration between The Citizen and Crikey.com. See the Crikey series here.