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While politics has always been the least preferred option for Indian-origin migrants, some brave personalities are beginning to test the waters. By SUJITH KRISHNAN
Nick Kotsiras, Multicultural Affairs & Citizenship Minister has stated, “If you have a parliament which is not reflective of the local community, people will feel excluded from the political process and therefore create an ‘us and them’ perception.” And it is in accordance with Mr Kotsiras’ notion that the government has been working on a new multicultural policy based on citizenship which has paved the way for a group of Indians to venture into the foray of politics. These candidates are battling for top positions in their respective councils, to represent the community in the upcoming local government elections to be held in October. It is a challenging dominion, but these candidates are confident, resourceful and willing to make a change. Indian Link met some of the candidates who have chosen to take the plunge into active politics by representing the people at grassroots level.
An accountable politician
Gurninder Singh ALP
Having arrived in Australia in 2007, Gurninder Singh or ‘Guri’ as he is popularly known, works for the Metro in the Customer Service and Operations Department as a Station Officer. Guri is seeking re-election as a Labor party candidate, having been actively involved in 2009 in the Darebin office, and at the ALP Craigieburn branch in 2011. He was also involved in administering community support services for new migrants and students who endured hardship upon their arrival down under. Guri seeks election to the Hume Council.
“The previous government had developed a practice of over-spending on several occasions and this is a significant area I aspire to keep a check on because one of the most important attributes of a politician is to hold himself accountable for his actions,” says Guri who also intends to improve services and facilities within the community and more importantly, ensuring safety for residents.
One of his major achievements during his stint as politician was revamping the Gurudwara in Craigieburn, including improved sanitation facilities for the disabled in the shrine. An advocate for strong affiliations within the community, Guri has ceaselessly strived to bring people from various ethnic backgrounds together. “I will continue to support and be part of this wonderful community as long as I possibly can,” he says.
Anamika Srivastava is an active and passionate community worker who has always gone beyond the call of duty to empower women – generally considered to be the subjugated species in society. Being thoroughly involved in charity organizations such as ‘WIN’ and ‘Project Dovetail’ in the past to support women and disadvantaged children, her enthusiasm and determination to help the deprived and make a difference in the community are impressive qualities. Moreover, Anamika is now involved in a social inclusion programme called, ‘Opening Doors’, which encourages underprivileged women to come together for the noble cause of welfare work within the community.
With an enduring desire to contribute to society, Anamika says, “If I win the elections, I will have more resources at my disposal and more avenues to explore while playing a significant role in the community. Moreover, I feel I can inspire women to believe they are capable of rubbing shoulders with their male counterparts and become community leaders.”
In these restrained times, the primary goals of this gritty and realistic lady in her own words are, “Helping migrants from various ethnic backgrounds settle in and connect with the community by organizing a series of programmes; engaging local businesses in cultural exchange programmes; encouraging volunteer work to help the disabled and spreading the message of leading a positive lifestyle.” Anamika will contest from the Monash Council.
Wyndham Council Harrison Ward
Wyndham is one of the fastest growing areas in Melbourne with an influx of migrants which has resulted in the construction of several residential areas and schools since the last few years. But despite the sharp increase in population, the suburb has had to endure the plight of poor infrastructure and facilities for quite some time now, something Gautam Gupta hopes to reverse.
“The standard of living in Wyndham is plummeting thanks to the inefficiency of politicians who have proved to be masters of society instead of servants,” says the proficient hearing-specialist.
With a clear understanding of the inadequacies confronting this section in Melbourne, Gupta adds, “Council rates have risen by a staggering 700% in recent times and that is just unfair to the residents. Moreover, I will be examining the exorbitant wages paid to executives and also on how the rising unemployment rate of about 70% can be controlled by creating new job opportunities. Health services, infrastructure and internet facilities will be improved as well.” Gautam Gupta will run for election from the Wyndham Council.
Community is Key
Wyndham Council Harrison Ward
Intaj Khan is a Truganina resident, having lived in this outer suburb for eight years. He has witnessed living standards take a hit in recent years with inadequacy of services and hopes to make a difference, if elected. Intaj Khan is also contesting from the Wyndham Council.
“Apart from the routine infrastructure concerns in Wyndham, I want to provide the community with a range of leisure facilities such as having a swimming pool in Point Cook so that revellers in Wyndham have an extra option, come summer. I want to create jobs in the community by co-ordinating with small businesses to begin with, and also hope to help create proper bus shelters along Sayers Road and Sneydes Road,” says Khan.
To alleviate traffic congestions on the roads, Khan hopes to convince the Metro to commence Zone 01 train services from Werribee to the CBD, and will also attempt to improve bus services in and around the area.
Khan is passionate about the serving the community and believes changes can happen through perseverance, hard work and dedication.
Fighting institutionalised discrimination
Darebin Council La Trobe Ward
Despite being raised in Australia, Tim is proud of his Indian roots and enthusiastic as ever as he attempts to make an impression on the community. Tim was actively involved in politics in the mid to late nineties and also held the elite position of Mayor of Darebin in 2000-2001. Moreover, he is currently in charge of the grants committee.
Tim believes that Australia is indeed multicultural, but only to a certain extent; and this is an area in which he hopes to bring about a significant change. “With people from so many various backgrounds in this country, there is no equal representation of the migrant community in government services right from politics to the police force. To put it in simple terms, Australia suffers heavily from institutionalized discrimination against people from non-English speaking backgrounds and that’s appalling,” says Tim who will stand for election to the Darebin Council.
He believes that injustice against migrants prevails in the community and to add substance to his views, Tim points out how lethargic the government is when it comes to improving rail and road services in many of the outer suburbs or for that matter, even in providing decent sport facilities. He goes on to add that there is an added emphasis on improvement in the affluent suburbs, while upcoming suburbs are completely overlooked.
Tim wants to encourage migrants from different backgrounds to step forward. “People have to face up to the challenge of becoming leaders in the community, think big and move on from being employed as cleaners and taxi drivers because they are far more capable than that,” claims Tim emphatically.
Promoting budding talent
Darebin Council Rucker Ward
Since his arrival in Australia in 2001, Aloke Kumar, a hotel management graduate was employed in the hospitality industry. He then entered the education sector, starting a private institution and today, Aloke is the proud owner of one of the most sought-after venues for arts in the city, the Thornbury theatre. Aloke will stand for election to the Darebin Council.
“It is unfortunate that despite being the fourth largest migrant community in Australia, there is no Indian representative in politics. This is something that needs to change and it has to happen now so as to pave the way for future aspirants,” says Aloke on the upcoming elections.
“I’ve held several leadership positions in the past in India serving the community on various platforms and I intend to do the same over here,” responds Aloke on being asked what spurred him into the realm of politics. He hopes to slash theatre council rates and provide more childcare facilities to the community as parents continue to live hectic lives and grapple with time constraints.
Being submerged in theatre, Aloke wants to offer a platform to budding local talent and cites the rise of Melbourne-based singer Diljaan whose career is on the surge. “I’m happy that I was able to offer Diljaan, a wonderful singer, the right launch pad into show business and want to see an Indian band emerge from Melbourne in the near future,” says Aloke.
Better public transport
Murugan Nagarajan, Independent
Greater Dandenong City Council, Red Gum Ward
Having lived in Australia for 15 years and risen up the ranks in a multinational organisation, Murugan has been contemplating ways to contribute to the community. He feels that the elections offer the perfect opportunity for him to be involved in the upkeep of the community.
“It’s time I returned some of the faith shown in me when I arrived in the country”, he says.
Murugan hopes to keep a check on the exorbitant parking fees and provide improved public transport facilities. Moreover, he is confident that he can offer enhanced support services to both senior citizens as well as the youth irrespective of their ethnic background. He adds, “There are significant numbers in society especially amongst the elderly and the youth who are secluded. I want to let them know that they are important to the community just as anybody else and highly regarded”. Additionally, Murugan aspires to improve relations within the community as a whole by regularly organising various social activities for people from all age groups.
Murugan also believes that one is accountable for his/her actions and hopes to play a pivotal role in decision-making, planning and co-ordination of various programs in the community.
Accent on outer suburbs
Fazlur-Rahman Mohammed, Independent Greater Dandenong City Council, Lightwood Ward (Springvale & Springvale South)
Having arrived in Australia in 2004 as an international student to pursue higher studies, this Springvale resident has since established himself down under presently working as an accountant in a local school. “Being part of an Indian community that is expanding every year in Australia, I believe it’s high time we went a step further and made our presence felt in political affairs in this country. I consider the upcoming elections the right time and perfect launch-pad for people like me to get a headstart and aspire to represent our community on the big stage”, he says.
Going by his slogan, ‘Support me to serve you’, Rahman believes that despite being the most liveable city in the world, there’s ample scope for improvement in most of the outer suburbs and fittingly, has several plans up his sleeve. He fervently adds, “I want to offer more support to small businesses and bring down council rates. Moreover, I hope to also spread a positive message to the community about improving cleanliness on our streets, encourage people to partake in sport and organize activities to enhance relations within the community”.