Indian links in the 2019 NSW election

Getting to know some of the Indian-origin candidates in the upcoming state elections

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PALLAVI SINHA
Liberal Party
(Candidate for Legislative Council)

DANIEL MOOKHEY
Australian Labor Party
(Candidate for Legislative Council)

CHARISHMA KALIYANDA
Australian Labor Party
(Candidate for Holsworthy)

DURGA OWEN
Australian Labor Party
(Candidate for Seven Hills) 

ARUNA CHANDRALA
Australian Labor Party
(Candidate for Legislative Council)

What convinced you to join the party of your choice?

Pallavi Sinha: I’ve spent a lot of my life in roles that allowed me to serve the community, such as Vice-President Australia-India Business Council NSW, the NSW Council for Women’s Economic Opportunity, and as an Appointed Supporter of the Joint Federal & State Campaign to stop Domestic & Family Violence (DV).

Through my work in a range of areas, including small business, education, social cohesion and DV, my interest in influencing legislation and policy really developed as did my interest in entering politics.

I really connected with the Liberal Party values, such as a focus on rewarding hard work and enterprise, the importance of family and equal opportunity – making the Liberal Party a natural choice for me. A good example of the great work done by the NSW Liberal Government that particularly attract people like myself are:

  • The hard work that has been done to balance the state’s budget, leaving NSW without debt – and thus allowing the NSW Liberal government to take the pressure off families.
  • The NSW Liberal Government has done so much to reduce the cost of living for families, such as the Active and Creative Kids vouchers.
  • The NSW Liberal Government has also been fixing our transport system, with new infrastructure, roads, and rail – meaning people spend less time commuting and more time doing things that matter.
  • More than ever has been invested in health, with record funding and health workforce boost – such as recruiting an extra 8,300 doctors, nurses and health professionals, to make sure there is help at hand when it’s needed most.
  • Ensuring that our schools and teachers are supported, by building new schools, hiring an extra 4,600 teachers, and clearing the maintenance backlog. As a result of all this hard work children all across the state will be getting a great start in life

Daniel Mookhey: I’m the son of Indian immigrants. I attended excellent public schools in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. Whenever I was sick, I could see a doctor for free. I could visit a world class public hospital if I needed to. When I realised that my good fortune wasn’t accidental, that people struggled for generations to build what some take for granted, I knew which Party was for me: Labor, the Party that dismantled White Australia, built Medicare and fights hard for public education.

We’re the Party for the strivers. We back small business. We fight for excellent public services like schools and hospitals. We abhor racism. We take seriously our responsibility to make sure the Parliament resembles the people it’s there to serve. We’re proud to have so many Indian-Australians running under the Labor banner, with excellent chances of winning election to the Lower House and Upper House.

We look forward to an election when the NSW Liberal Party can say the same.

Charishma Kaliyanda: One of the things that my parents always reinforced for me and my brother as we were growing up is the value and importance of education. I believe that access to high-quality education and training is fundamental to having opportunities to progress and pursue what is meaningful to you in life, regardless of your circumstances. Furthermore, when I was 19 I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and have therefore experienced the need to have a well-resourced, accessible and proactive public health care system. The only political party that has consistently pursued and delivered on these areas is the Labor Party, which has only reinforced why I joined so many years ago.

Durga Owen: The Labor Party is the only party dedicated to protecting our local communities, committed to a universal health system and improving our local schools and guaranteeing TAFE funding into the future. We have already announced policies to address the urgent need for more affordable housing, such as ending no-fault evictions and mandating a minimum amount of affordable housing in any new housing development, as well as fairer working conditions including for casual and gig economy workers.

Aruna Chandrala: Ever since I migrated to Australia over 30 years ago, I always voluntarily worked and chaired several community, cultural, immigrant, women, temple and subcontinent associations. As a result, I am fortunate enough to liaise with politicians and policy makers of all parties. I soon realised the policies of the Australian Labor Party towards multiculturalism and protecting the vulnerable communities are well aligned with my own values and beliefs. That’s why I joined Australian Labor Party, to represent our community and groups.

What strategy did you use to campaign for votes in the election?

Charishma Kaliyanda: My key strategy is pretty simple – to speak to, meet with and interact with as many people within Holsworthy as possible. This has involved knocking on doors, meeting people at railway stations and street stalls, directly phoning residents and more doorknocking. The only way to defeat an incumbent is to work harder than the incumbent and that is what I have done since I was preselected over 18 months ago. I have also been listening to my community, something the incumbent has not done.

Durga Owen: I want to take every opportunity to listen to the concerns of the electorate and give people the opportunity speak to me. For nearly a year now, I have been at train stations, shopping centres and community events, doorknocking thousands of homes and listening to the concerns, and pledging to fight for the needs of the electorate. I have made myself available via a direct phone, email and social media also.

Aruna Chandrala: My strategy to get elected is based on party back up and word of mouth campaign. I am hoping many community members, who know my work and encouraged me to go into politics, will help me in promoting among community groups, friends and relatives. My campaign emphasis is that this is an opportunity for the community to show our strength and have our own representation in the upper house. While serving in the community, I have a large network of volunteers and we all are making every effort to win the votes.

What are the three main changes you wish to make if you are to be elected?

Pallavi Sinha: I will be a strong voice for our diverse communities, the small business sector and survivors of DV.

I believe that some of the pressing needs of the Indian Australian community include:

  • A better utilisation of our community members’ skills – particularly that of recent Indian migrants. This issue was raised at a Small Business Forum that I organised at the NSW Parliament House last year ;
  • Culturally appropriate aged care, particularly in relation to language and dietary needs of the Indian community;
  • The broad community issue of violence in the community, particularly as it is experienced by some CALD communities. Violence against women is unacceptable. (I know family and friends of the late Dr Preethi Reddy, and have been shocked and devastated to hear about her horrific murder.)

I will continue to advocate for the community in these and other areas, including through the Liberal Friends of India, for which I am a Founder Member.

Daniel Mookhey: I’d like the people of NSW to learn in the world’s best schools. I never want anyone in NSW to worry about whether about whether they can pay for health care when they’re sick. I want them to have good full time jobs, which pay well, and are secure enough for them to support their families.

Charishma Kaliyanda: The number one focus for me is to be a more effective local member and representative for my community. A lot of residents talk to me about not feeling like the challenges they face on a daily basis are being addressed, and that’s why I’d like to be more proactive in engaging with the people of Holsworthy and being an effective advocate for them. I’m also very passionate about ensuring we have a more effective mental health system as, currently, my day job is in the youth mental health space. The other issue that people keep raising with me that is very important to address, is making sure we are properly planning and delivering infrastructure and services in our growing areas, like Holsworthy.

Durga Owen: At the heart of success for a member of parliament is putting the community’s interests first. This means protecting our public health system from cuts, building world class schools for our children, and making our community more liveable by protecting open spaces and heritage. This includes making sure our most vulnerable are not left behind, including the homeless, mentally ill, and those doing it tough with the increased cost of living, such as pensioners and young families.

These should be any Government’s priorities, but the NSW Liberal Government has instead prioritised expensive stadium vanity projects, overseen the large-scale sale of publicly owned revenue-generating assets, while schools are an afterthought and trains and roads are increasingly clogged and unable to cope with the rapid pace of overdevelopment. To top it off, we get to now pay for the M4 toll again – a toll on a road that has already been paid for by the public. Obviously Labor opposes this and if elected has pledged to bring back the M4 toll cashback.

Aruna Chandrala: My policies will be central to enabling the first generation migrants to be inclusive and participating with the mainstream policies and multicultural NSW; a “Fair Go” for socially disadvantaged groups and immigrants including parents of immigrants, and better public education, free healthcare and socially responsible environmental protection for the benefit of all future generations.

Tell us a bit about your background?

Pallavi Sinha: I’m an Australian of Indian origin. My parents are from Uttar Pradesh and migrated to Australia over 40 years ago. Like many migrants and hardworking Australians, they came here with a few dollars in their pocket. A few years after they arrived, I was born in Auburn Hospital.

My mum and dad worked very hard, working day and night to build a thriving medical practice, while also volunteering in the community. I completed Economics (Social Sciences) & Law degrees with honours from the University of Sydney, and I’m a Former Lifeline Counsellor & Mediator.

I have worked as a lawyer for more than 15 years and I am currently the principal of Lawyers with Solutions. Previously, I’ve worked:

  • in the private sector as a Solicitor at King & Wood Mallesons’ Corporate Advisory section;
  • in the community sector as a Legal Mediator at CatholicCare;
  • in the public sector in the legal aand executive section of the former Migration Review Tribunal & Refugee Review Tribunal;
  • as the Convenor of Advanced Administrative Law and Advanced Topics in Public Law at Macquarie University Law School – focusing on the way in which the rule of law, the sovereignty of parliament, and the separation of powers doctrines are applied in the Australian jurisdiction;

I’ve also done a lot of work representing survivors of DV, and speaking on unique issues faced by culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. I’ve also contributed to policy reform in the area of DV. For example, last year I made a representation to the NSW Attorney General about addressing issues specifically experienced by some CALD communities, and ways to improve training provided to government officers. Following our discussions the Office of the NSW Attorney General have undertaken a survey of community groups, to help inform their policy formulation.

This kind of work on behalf of the community drives me to continue advocating for the NSW Liberal Government, as only the Liberals can deliver a balanced budget that allows more investment in our community.

Daniel Mookhey: I’m a Punjabi puttar. My family hail from modern day Haryana. My parents were amongst the first Indians to benefit from the end of the White Australia policy – they came to Sydney in the very early 1970s, and helped establish the very first newspaper for Indian-Australians, as well as the first Mandir.

I was born in Blacktown and raised in Parramatta. I’ve earned a law degree, an economics degree, and a Masters in Defence Studies.

After University, I proudly represented transport workers at a trade union. I then worked at a think tank, ran many political campaigns, and then I set up my own small business.

For the past four years I’ve been a Member of the NSW Legislative Council.

I’m humbled that I had the honour of being the first member of the Indian-Australian community to serve as an elected Member of Parliament in NSW.

I’m humbled to have taken my oath of office on the Gita – I’m proud to have been the first Australian to do so. The lesson I take from the Bhagavad Gita is about selfless action: this is what is expected of those with power (in politics and business). It’s an ideal we are all wise to remember.

Sitting unread on my iPad is the Kautilya’s Arthashastra – the Indian treatise on statecraft, translated from Ancient Sanskrit. It’s hard going. I haven’t given up.

Charishma Kaliyanda: I was born in Bangalore and migrated to Sydney with my parents and younger brother when I was 4, in the early ‘90s. I have always lived in south-west Sydney – I went to school here and I work here. I’m a registered occupational therapist and have worked with a wide range of different people. As I mentioned, I currently work for a youth mental health organisation called headspace in the Campbelltown centre. I’m also currently a councillor on Liverpool City Council.

Durga Owen: My family is from Jaffna Sri Lanka. We speak Tamil at home. My mother’s grandparents originate from India. My father’s family are Tamils from the North of Sri Lanka going back hundreds of years. I have lived in Western Sydney for 25 years and was fortunate to attend Arthur Phillip High School, become the School Captain and go on to earn several degrees in Law and Social Science and Politics at University. I have practiced as a Solicitor and now I lecture in law at Western Sydney University. My husband Michael and I live in the electorate and raise our three sons who attend public schools. A strong education system is the great leveller; a chance for every child to succeed, no matter what school they go to. Our public education system has opened many doors for me, and I am passionate about making sure everyone gets this opportunity. That is what makes our community a better place.


I have been community advocate since my school days and have continued to work to preserve our green spaces, heritage sites, youth and disability access and community services. Being awarded Parramatta Young Citizen of the Year in 2002 and the Australian Centenary medal for Services to the Parramatta community have further allowed me to work with our local organisations to ensure our community interests are prioritised.

Aruna Chandrala: I migrated to Australia over 30 years ago from Andhra Pradesh. Like any other woman, I helped my husband build a successful family business and raised two happy children, both becoming useful members of society, a Cardiologist and a Chartered Accountant. Community service has always been my passion. I believed from a young age that “only a life living for others is a life worthwhile”. Keeping that motto in mind, I became an elected student leader at university in India.

Community and migrant issues are always at my heart and I am fortunate enough to devote my life for these actives without the need for monitory earning. I worked as Vice Present and President of Telugu Association, and later became President of United India Association (UIA). During this period, I conducted several activities to promote the community relationship between India and Australia in social, cultural and business areas. In my current roles as president of Global Women’s Network Inc and Vice President of Subcontinent Friends of Labor, multicultural advisor for State and Federal MPs, I am working for women’s empowerment and participation in politics for better policies.

What do you think are the pressing needs of the Indian Australian community?

Daniel Mookhey: My two sons are both under three; I’d like them to speak Hindi and Punjabi better than me. When I grew up, I learnt Hindi from listening to our parents, and watching Amitabh Bachchan movies (Coolie remains the best movie for any Labor politician to watch!). We’re past that stage – our community deserves better. I’m proud of Labor’s policy on community language education.

I’m watching the pioneers of our community, our senior-citizens, age. Our community deserves culturally appropriate aged care.

And like all parents from all communities, I’m worried about my children’s education. I don’t want them learning in demountable buildings, many which are over forty years old. I’m glad I see many other Indian-Australian children at my son’s early learning centre: when they all start school in a few years’ time, their schools will matter to me. They matter to everyone.

Charishma Kaliyanda: I think that despite the fact that the Indian community is much larger and more visible than, for example, when my family first migrated here, we still have a long way to go when it comes to being part of the mainstream. Although Indian festivals, events, food and culture are more recognised, we need to see more Indian faces represented when it comes to media, sport and, of course, politics.

Durga Owen: The next state election represents a chance to decide what type of community we want to live in. We need better health services; a world class education, both at our local schools and through TAFE and University; a fair go for small businesses to thrive and grow, a public transport system that delivers, hospitals with nurse-to-patient ratios offering the highest standard of care, and open spaces for our children to grow.

Aruna Chandrala: The Indian-Australian community is extremely diverse made up of many people who have only recently arrived, right through to those that are well established and have been here for many decades. Indians are the fastest growing community in Australia and we have reached beyond the 500,000 mark. Even though the community is now more proactive, dynamic and skilled, there are several issues being faced by the community. I think collectively as a group, we yearn for a voice on the political stage that fosters the needs of our community.

Who are you inspired by?

Pallavi Sinha: I have been really inspired by my parents, and the way that they applied their heart, mind and soul to all of their hard work. I also think that we have an amazing Premier in Gladys Berejiklian, whose tireless work on behalf of our community has been simply incredible.

Daniel Mookhey: I’ve spent the past year immersed in the history of the US Civil Rights Movement. Hard to go past people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, Medger Evans and John Lewis. Everyone should read Dr King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. In my inaugural speech, I spoke about all of them – as well as the galvanising movement that inspired them all: the Indian Independence Movement.

Charishma Kaliyanda: Different people inspire me for different reasons. For example, I really admire the vision of Aneurin Bevan, the post-WW2 British Health Minister who was the architect and champion of the National Health Service (NHS). I also admire the ability of people like Barack Obama and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to communicate complex information in an engaging way. Having grown up in a cricket mad family, I must also mention really looking up to Rahul Dravid’s patience and humility.

Durga Owen: Parents in our community, just like my own, who work tirelessly for the future for their children through better education and opportunities inspire me to work harder towards policies to make their lives easier, as it is through them that we have built a strong Australia. In the heart of it all, I want my work to be led by the values of fairness, equality and social justice.

Aruna Chandrala: There is no specific individual or group, but I really get inspired by and admire those countless individuals who work voluntarily – day in and day out, without the need for name and fame – for community activities, whether related to social, cultural or religious ends.

There is a lot of disillusionment with politics and politicians in current times – what needs to be done to change that public perception?

Pallavi Sinha: It’s important for politicians to focus on interests of the community, rather than talk about politics. I have put myself forward as an Australian Liberal candidate from a diverse background, who has done a lot of work with the grassroots of our community.

I’m pleased to be a member of a Party and a team, which is led by the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian MP – who comes from a culturally diverse background herself. NSW Liberal Party’s focus on local families, community organisations and small business helps people to see that we are focused on what politicians should always focus on – the people of this state.

Daniel Mookhey: Politics needs to be practiced by citizens again. Right now, it’s like a small club that makes all the decisions. This election we need to change that. If we don’t, people’s disillusionment will only get worse.

Charishma Kaliyanda: I think we need to acknowledge that democracy is a two-way street. I sometimes hear people say that “both parties are the same” or “all politicians are the same”, and I have to say that, with all due respect, that’s just not the case. At the upcoming state election, there is a fundamental choice being presented to the people of NSW: do you want your government to spend $2.2 bil on demolishing and rebuilding two stadiums, or do you want your government to invest in the things that will make a meaningful difference to the lives of you and your family: more nurses and health professionals to reduce hospital waiting times, air conditioning all school classrooms so that children can learn and fulfil their potential, returning the community to the heart of the planning system and having a plan to tackle energy prices and climate change. Politicians need to do and be better at ensuring that people feel, and are, heard properly.

Durga Owen: Representation in parliament should also mirror our society with more women and people of diverse cultures represented and I am proud that the Labor Party is leading the way in this aspect. As the decisions made in Parliament have a huge impact on our daily lives, we need more consultation of the community by members of parliament to truly be in touch with the community’s needs. Building trust through collaborative and community-centered policy making is what will rebuild trust in our politicians and guarantee accountability.

Aruna Chandrala: It is no surprise that the public is disillusioned with the current state of affairs in politics. Like a turnstile we see leaders come and go, constantly pandering to the polls or self-interests rather than the interests of their constituents. We need courage and we need stability – the courage to stand up, be ourselves and let the voices of our community be heard, with the stability to ensure that we can see projects through to fruition.