Sunny Chandra: For immigration and regional development

IT entrepreneur Sunny Chandra, a candidate for the Senate in the upcoming Federal Elections, talks to PREETI JABBAL

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With a keen focus on regional growth, renewable energy and immigration matters, Victorian Sunny Pratap Chandra’s mission is to participate fully in the process of making new laws and debating public policy in Australia.

He considers his politics to be centrist and has spent considerable time in constructing and articulating the framework of the policies that he would like to implement.

Speaking with Indian Link, he outlines his promise of building a stronger regional Victoria and explains why he chose to nominate himself as an Independent candidate for the Victorian Senate in the upcoming Federal Elections.

Why are you seeking a seat in the Senate? And why as an Independent, instead of affiliating with a major party?

The Federal parliament runs on two levels, the Lower House with around 150 members and upper level with about 64 members. The old constitution was so set up that the senate was to represent the people and the Lower House was to represent the political party.

I am not in any political party so I did not want to stand for a seat in the Lower House. The Upper House is like an elder brother that checks on the legislations that they are trying to pass and ensures that they are workable.

My passion is immigration and regional development, and immigration is a Federal affair. All the bills are sent to Senate and it has powers like Senate enquiry, Senate Estimate Committee, Testaments committee etc. The Senate can call any minister and quiz them on their policies. For example there were so many issues for Minister Peter Dutton during his attempts to change citizenship rules. Finally it failed in the Senate. I want to be in the Senate, where the action is.

While I have friends in both major parties I feel that both have fringe elements that are extreme. Liberals form alliances with the far right including Pauline Hanson who are trying to cut back immigration. On the other hand Labor has affiliations with people like the Greens who are only thinking of a limited number of people on Manus Island and focussed on saving them whereas in the middle there are more than 2.2 million people living on temporary resident visas and 40,000 people on bridging visas stuck in the pipeline.

What is going to happen to those people?  Nobody is debating about them. The wait has stretched out for these people. The queues for processing are getting longer. I want to talk about these issues, get the laws changed and have a proper debate on immigration and address this issue in Parliament and through the media.

Nobody seems to be talking about the fact that we are giving 30-35,000 student visas every month. If you calculate that over a year, that’s around 360,000 student visas, so what is this talk about restricting migration to 160,000? It is fake news. Last year the limit was 190,000 but only 63,473 visas were handed out. They can’t cut back on partners, parents and families, but they can cut back only on the skilled percentage. How will that work?

Scott Morrison is saying that the total immigration intake will remain the same as last year but we will give more visas in the regional areas and less in the city and I agree with that.

There is much discussion about infrastructure in major cities not keeping up with the growth. Your thoughts?

Infrastructure in and around Melbourne was planned at a time that did not take into account the number of students and migrants that are coming in. Around a third of the 30,000 students, I mentioned earlier, come to Melbourne. They are coming to Melbourne because they need to study in CRICOS (approved colleges) and majority of these are in Melbourne. They come to these CRICOS colleges as that is a pathway to get permanent visas.

This may sound revolutionary but my policy would be that all CRICOS certifications should only be given in regional areas. The argument will be why should people come there? $33 billion dollars come to Australia from education out of which Victoria contributes $10 billion. With CRICOS colleges only operating from regional areas, that will spread the intake. Generally a vast majority of students come with the intent to gain Permanent Residency. They need around 65 points for that so if we change the rules and offer 20 points instead of the existing 5 points towards their PR, then they will come.

Do regional areas have the capacity to handle the growth you are talking about, and will there be employment?

This is a chicken and egg situation. I have great faith in immigrants that come to this country. They are out there, they have initiative, youth and the desire to do well. They will create jobs and add to the economy. Billions of dollars of injection into the regional areas will work and new infrastructure can be built. This is better than having the $1 billion fill the pockets of some education providers who are driving Ferraris and becoming instant millionaires. Why should this be allowed?

Students generally come with fees for one semester and then need a job and I agree there aren’t many in regional areas. I live in Keyneton where I can’t get an Uber, and there is only one Indian restaurant. I wanted a plumber’s services for a small issue, and he was booked out for the next two and a half months. This indicates there is demand there and when we open these colleges, the local people will get appointments as teachers and there will be more transparency. The locals will provide quality education unlike the practise now in some of these colleges.

What are your views on renewable energy?

Renewable energy is absolutely necessary to grow the region. If we have coal-fired power stations there is a lot of cost in moving that electricity, and in the process some energy is leaked, it uses a lot of land and they are totally inefficient in terms of transferring coal into electricity. Instead we should have windmills; one or two windmills in India generates electricity for many villages. The demand is less in comparison to Australia but based on that example if we were to put those windmills dotted across Victoria we could have the transmission quickly and it can harness solar power. We don’t harness it much at the moment because of the coal lobby and the number of people working in coal and mining. The amount of money invested in R&D in solar is also tiny compared to money spent on huge projects like Adani mines.

As a Senator it would be my objective to get more money for R&D on renewable energy and put in business plans for distributed electricity across Australia, not centralised base loads. People need to look into the future; a renewables future is feasible with technologies like wind turbines and concentrating solar power among others.

What strategy are you using to campaign for votes in the election?

I am relying heavily on the support of my ethnic South Asian community; there are 169,000 people in Victoria that are born in India according to ABS statistics. I am relying on them but my reach to them is something I am working on at the moment. I haven’t had much headway as people are shy of politics and tend to avoid it at social and religious gatherings like at temples and musical events etc. I feel disappointed if I don’t get the opportunity to discuss this with the larger community.

People need to know that I am not here to make money. I am 77 years old; I don’t need to do this for money. I have been in Australia 44 years and I have a stellar career with not a single mark on it. My wife is third generation Australian and I have a wonderful family of children and grandchildren. I am doing this to get better immigration outcomes because I am passionate about this subject.