It could be climate change, the 23 Newspolls our sitting government has lost in a row, or the threat of a looming election – whatever it is, it is undeniable that Australia’s political sphere is heating up. With a by-election in Bennelong just around the corner, and a dual citizenship drama claiming new victims fortnightly, federal politics has rarely been this dramatic, and gripping.
Due to the starring role mythical Western Sydney (does anyone know where this famed land, heavily populated by the sub-continental diaspora, officially starts and ends?) plays in the election discourse, its cameo in the marriage survey fallout and the nationwide focus on diversity, inclusion or lack thereof, it is at an interesting and pivotal time that NSW Young Labor has elected two sub-continental leaders. Geeth Geeganage, a first generation Sri Lankan migrant, and Sravya Abbineni, of south Indian cultural heritage, have been appointed President and Secretary of the outfit respectively.
Speaking to Indian Link about what drew him to politics, Geeth explains, “Since I was quite young, I have been really interested in the leadership aspect of politics. When I was school captain, I spent time with David Bradbury, Member for Lindsay, and got exposure to the world of politics.”
Reflecting on his own political leanings, he said, “I always thought I was more Labor-inclined particularly due to our investment in schools and our similar belief structures and values.”
Multiculturalism has always been a key motivator for Geeth who goes on to say that in the Labor party, “I saw things that I thought could be,” an observation which has not disappointed him. Describing the work Young Labor does in multicultural communities, Geeth lists, “Young Labor is for the type of multiculturalism which is focussed on really engaging with multicultural communities. It’s thinking about the framework and policies we need to have in order to best support those communities. We held a Shabbat dinner with the Jewish community, we’ve done Islamic friendship dinners, harmony walks in Blacktown and we’ve always had a diverse membership.”
Given the growing influence of the sub-continental communities in socio-political discourse and high engagement with political parties across the spectrum, what is the significance of having two sub-continental forces at the lead? “It’s definitely significant but the good thing is that ‘we’re more than just our culture.’ There is a good atmosphere, one that is reflective of the slow progression of the hard work of communities, and of the leadership and mentorship.”
Labor, both locally and federally, has certainly recognised the sub-continental community as a political powerhouse and has worked hard on establishing an ongoing partnership (when was the last time anyone saw Julia Finn MP or Jodi McKay MP not wearing a sari?). But how do you engage with a community as culturally, religiously, socioeconomically and geographical diverse as ours, whilst ensuring there isn’t just some homogenous, stereotypical approach? “It’s really interesting,” Geeth continues, “that there is such diversity in such communities. It’s hard within even the individual countries – the idea of migration is a great unifier, they’ve uprooted their lives to move to Australia for better opportunities.”
Migration as the great unifier is an interesting observation, since Labor has not had the best track record with offshore processing of asylum seekers, and the issue of refugee intake continues to be a contentious one across the sub-continental community. How will Labor go about addressing the issue of people who have migrated non-traditionally?
Geeth responds, “It’s a delicate and complex issue for the government and the immigration department to deal with. But in bridging the gap, make sure the processes are in place, make sure the structures exist to support those who are trying to make new lives.” He ultimately expresses that we must “give people who have left countries differently, the same opportunities as everyone else.” Part of this, he says, is about engaging with the community leaders, such as the “amazing” Deng Adut from the African community.
Speaking about his co-leader, Sravya, Geeth says that there are plenty of excellent opportunities for women, particularly those from minority backgrounds in the Labor teams. “Sravya has done a great job of mentoring people and she plans to continue this into the future,” he says, also mentioning the plethora of support and mentoring received generally, which have allowed the duo to get into the positions they’re now in.
Looking to the future, Geeth says there is plenty of work ahead in combating the hateful rhetoric of One Nation, so he’ll be ‘focussing on that’, and no doubt all hands are on deck for the upcoming season finale of Australian federal politics for the year, the Bennelong by-election.