Charishma Kaliyanda MP: ‘More participation in all aspects of our democracy’

The new Member for Liverpool is the first Indian-born Australian to be elected to the NSW Parliament.

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The Labor Party entered the 2023 state election with the promise of giving NSW residents a “fresh start” after 12 years of Coalition government.

It’s a campaign platform that is reflected both in Labor policy and personnel; many members of the new majority Labor government – including Premier-elect Chris Minns himself – do not have prior ministerial experience, and many come from diverse backgrounds.

As NSW soaks in a resounding Labor victory, Bengaluru-born Charishma Kaliyanda – MP-elect for Liverpool – talks to us on the last weeks of the campaign, the election result and the journey ahead.

Charishma, congratulations on the election result. Talk to me about how it feels to not only be elected, but to be in government and in majority government. Has it sunk in yet?

Charishma Kaliyanda: To be honest, it hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It feels very surreal. There was a real positivity and a real enthusiasm for Labor on the ground over the last few weeks. We were really hopeful that the election results would reflect that. To see the results and to form majority government was a real validation of the policies that we went into the campaign with, but also our articulation and understanding of the challenges people are experiencing right now.

The cost of living is really hurting a lot of people and families are making a lot of decisions based on the challenges they are experiencing. They’ve seen the things Labor are putting onto the table are not just about alleviating those immediate cost of living issues, but also for example in south-west Sydney, on the long-term plan that Labor is bringing forward – because this region has been really left behind when it comes to basic infrastructure.

It seems like the temperature of politics in Australia has gone down, even as the challenges we have seem to have increased. It’s also something both Dominic Perrottet and Chris Minns alluded to in their speeches on election night. What do you make of that and how do you think we can continue that in our political discourse going forward?

Charishma Kaliyanda: It’s an interesting thing to witness. Over the last few decades, we’ve become used to politics being about big announcements with large price tags and, as one journalist called it, razzle dazzle. People are a bit more cynical about politics, political parties and politicians now, but also about the promises that generate media fanfare, but don’t materially impact on quality of life.

The other side is that over the last three years we’ve been incredibly focused on our local areas and local communities so when it comes to commitments that people have responded very well to, in my experience, it’s the commitments that people can see happening in their local communities: those are the ones that impact the decisions that people make.

Charishma Kaliyanda

You’re now one of 4 elected MPs of Indian heritage and the first Indian-born Australian to be elected. What do you think that means, both to young people from diverse backgrounds and equally to your parents and other migrants who are seeing a government here that is more reflective of them?

Charishma Kaliyanda: It’s been quite overwhelming. I’ve lost control of my phone today just in responding to the various phone calls and messages that I’ve received, just the excitement and anticipation that people have.

It’s been over a decade now and three campaigns during which I’ve been balancing having an actual professional life alongside being politically involved. It’s important to me to step back and reflect on the fact that for so many people within our broader community, being politically active, having a voice and a platform and a seat at the decision-making table, is something they now see as part of their daily lives. Seeing someone like me, who they went to school with, or with whom they performed at someone’s wedding, or even those for whom I MCed at their arangetram – these are people who have been a part of my life and I’ve been a part of their life.

Having it all intersect with the political world has been really nice. It’s been an exciting experience for a lot of people in my community and it’s been met with a lot of enthusiasm. I hope it’s met with increasing engagement and attention to being politically engaged and aware, and ultimately just result in more participation in all aspects of our democracy.

What do you think your next 90 days is going to look like – are you excited, apprehensive, or just keen to get on with the job?

Charishma Kaliyanda: It’s a mixture of all three. I’ve been so focused on getting through to 25 March that I was sort of not really thinking about what comes after that!

I had a conversation with a sitting MP this morning and I was asking, “Will I get an email? A phone call from someone on what we do next, where do we go from here”? Just to look at the next 90 days though, it’s very much going to be about speaking to people who have been in a similar position, understanding the processes, the practical and logistical things like staff, who I need to see, getting my head around those things. And also very much around thanking my community and making sure my community understands how grateful I am that they’ve placed their trust in me.

I’m very grateful that almost 50% of my community has put me as number 1 on their ballots, and expect me to work hard for the people of the Liverpool.

What do you have to say to the uncles and aunties of NSW and to Indian Link readers?

Charishma Kaliyanda: The reason I am able to do something like this and be an MP – it feels so surreal saying and articulating that! – is because of the belief and support and the encouragement of so many aunties and uncles in my community who knew me.

They turned out and helped me on early voting booths, on election day, putting out election posters and helping me at train stations and I really think the belief and assistance and support that you give to young people, whether your own child or another’s, can have a transformational effect.

It takes a village to raise young people in our broader community – and if uncles and aunties can keep supporting young people, that’s great.

Read More: Charishma Kaliyanda: I want to help solve the challenges we face

Ritam Mitra
Ritam Mitra
Ritam is an award-winning journalist and lawyer based in Sydney. Ritam writes on domestic and global politics, human rights and social justice, and sport.

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