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Passion for community work and a desire to effect change appear to be motivating factors for the Indian-origin Australians in the fray at this year’s state elections
Some 20 candidates of subcontinental origin will attempt to win a seat in this month’s elections to the NSW Parliament.
While the personalities and policies of these candidates differ despite their common ancestral origins, one thing remains the same: a desire to contribute to their adopted Australian home in a way that they feel will best improve this society.
It seems all politicians must now increasingly pay attention to persons of subcontinental culture. As residents in many areas that are seen as marginal seats, they form a crucial vote-bank that the political parties have been keen to get access to. The 2011 census found that Indians are ranked fourth behind the United Kingdom, New Zealand and China when it comes to place of birth for migrants, with those of an Indian background having a population in Australia of about 300,000. Indians are among the fastest growing ethnic groups in this country. For the first time in 2011-12, India eclipsed China as the number one source of migrants, with 15.7% of the permanent migrant program being sourced from that country. NSW is home to about 100,000 Indian-origin people.
The candidates come from a wide range of platforms spanning the major parties of Liberal and Labor as well as encompassing minor parties like the Greens and micro-parties like the No Parking Meters Party. To be precise, five candidates are running as Liberal, five for Labor, one for the Greens, and one each for the Outdoor Recreation Party, Future Party and No Parking Meters Party. There are also three candidates who have made a conscious choice to disassociate themselves from the party discipline system and simply run as Independents without being tied to an organisation’s policies.
State governments in the modern era have lost many of the powers that were once reserved for them by the Australian Constitution at the time of Federation in 1901. They are becoming increasingly impotent due to the federal government expanding its size and scope; however the results of these elections will nevertheless influence the outcome of a range of issues over which state governments still retain a degree of control. These include health, education, roads, public transport, the performance and accountability of local councils and stamp duty. Increasingly criminal law issues such as cuts in funding for Legal Aid which are alleged to harm access to justice are coming to the fore. And naturally social issues such as abortion and the decriminalisation of medical marijuana will continue to play a role in deciding voters’ sympathies.
Polling suggests that the incumbent Liberal-National coalition is sitting on about 54% as compared to the ALP’s 46%. The last State election saw Labor suffer a debilitating defeat, taking only 23 seats in the house of 93 (the Coalition claimed a whopping 61 and others 9). The closer result this time is seen as a result of Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s increasing unpopularity and a possible flow-on effect from the Queensland election.
Ten days out from polling day, it is clear that this year’s election will be decided on policies as voters are offered a choice between, to quote commentators, “Two competing visions of the state’s future economic development”.
The Liberal Party has recruited two subcontinental candidates, Raman Bhalla (lower house) in Blacktown and Reena Jethi (upper house) in Baulkham Hills.
Labor meanwhile, has signed up lower house candidates Susai Benjamin in Seven Hills, Charishma Kaliyanda in Holsworthy and Daniel Mookhey (upper house) in Newtown.
The Greens are running lower house candidate Balaji Naranapatti in Seven Hills.
Vinay Kohlatkar (Monterey) is running on an Outdoor Recreation Party ticket, Hasmukhlal Gohil on a No Parking Meters Party platform, and Saritha Manickam is listed as a Future Party candidate. The Independents are Indira Devi in Blacktwon, Atul Misra in Murray and Mahesh Pundpal in Marsfield.
Raman Bhalla and Susai Benjamin are the two high-profile candidates from the community. The Liberal candidate Bhalla, a fresh-faced investment banker, has been out and about these past few months attending every possible community function. He is pitted against a prominent candidate in his electorate of Blacktown – the former leader of the NSW Opposition – John Robertson who currently holds the seat. Labor’s Benjamin has himself been a community stalwart for many years, well-known for flying his party’s flag and for his charitable legal work. He takes on Mark Taylor of the Liberal Party.
We also have the Bangladeshi-origin Rashid Bhuiyan (Liberal) in Lakemba; Pakistani-origin Aisha Amjad (Labor) in Kenthurst and Osman Faruqi (Greens) at Heffron, and Sri Lankan-origin Sujan Selven (Greens) at Prospect.
Why are these candidates seeking public office? What are they trying to achieve?
Susai Benjamin: I’ve lived in my constituency, Toongabbie, for 27 years, and I simply love the area. I’ve brought up three kids here, and have been involved in a number of community initiatives. My work in community advocacy and activism, as well as within the Indian community in Sydney, is well known. The opportunity came up to represent my people, and I welcomed it.
Balaji Naranapatti: Members of both the old parties in NSW have been found to be corrupt by the ICAC. The need of the hour is for a fresh, honest approach in NSW. The best way to influence policy is to participate in the process. I wish to provide people with the option of electing a representative not corrupted by big money and able to promote renewable energy and create local jobs, protect the environment, protect public education and improve public health. My party, the Greens, do not accept donations from any corporation or lobbyist.
Charishma Kaliyanda: As a professional in the healthcare industry, I’m an occupational therapist, and as someone who was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 19, I have used the health system extensively. I’ve seen the impact of the Liberal Government’s health cuts. Now I can sit on the sidelines and observe this impact, or do something about it. As a member of the Labor Party for eight years, I thought it was time to run for parliament.
Indira Devi: I want to make sure that the government is accountable. The people of my constituency are facing a lot of hardships. I understand what they are going through and want to help them.
Mahesh Pundpal: No Independent candidate has been elected to represent the people of NSW in the Legislative Council since 1999. Unbiased views and opinions of political party members could still be influenced by the thinking of the party they belong to. I am seeking to be the independent community voice, or reviewer, free from political party thinking, to hold the government to account by contesting the upcoming elections.
Raman Bhalla: Politics is my way of having a say in issues that matter. As a member of the NSW Parliament I will be able to influence the decision-making process on a variety of vital concerns that touch us all, whether in health, education, infrastructure, jobs, or the economy. So far, as a chartered accountant, I have been able to help scores of people in the area of financial services. Now I feel ready and eager to add value to the broader community. As well, might I add, my electorate in Blacktown has been taken for granted by the Labor Party thus far, and this is why we haven’t been able to progress as much as our neighbouring regions Parramatta and Penrith. I’m confident that I’ll be able to make the best possible representation for the overall development of my area.
Reena Jethi: I respect the tireless work and efforts put in by Members of Parliament, regardless of their political persuasion, for the betterment of the community. However, this election presents a stark contrast for the electorate: do they choose Labor’s congestion, debt and economic decline, or do they choose the Baird Liberal Team’s strong infrastructure programme, which will unlock Sydney’s road and rail networks, creating new economic opportunities? It is vital to the future of our state that we get the infrastructure we need, and that can only be achieved by leasing 49 per cent of the electricity network. With many people determined to maintain the power of unions which have stagnated our state economy for so long, we need a strong voice for progress in the Upper House, which is why I am running for office.
Vinay Kolhatkar: The Liberal Democratic Party is contesting the NSW State election via its affiliate, The Outdoor Recreation Party (which is Group B on the ticket).We have high regard for individual freedom and individual responsibility. The Senate is a powerful body through which we would like to effect a change in governance. A pro-capitalism culture is the need of the hour; the economy needs to move towards being a free-enterprise economy.
Atul Misra: I am a paediatrician by profession. Having travelled Australia’s length and breadth, I have been exposed to migrants from diverse cultures. My electorate, Murray, is an area predominantly dominated by agriculture and a lot needs to be done for the people here. There are many issues related to the supply and allocation of water in the Murray Darling Basin. Secondly, as a medical practitioner I’m keen on the rehabilitation of people suffering from mental disorders. Thirdly, I am also focussing on bringing about better education and an active tourism industry to these parts of Australia.