The Fowler seat: Another missed opportunity for diversity

Multicultural communities continue to be side-lined in the places it matters most.

Reading Time: 4 minutes


The news of Senator Kristina Keneally being endorsed to run for the safe NSW seat of Fowler is disappointing, yet unsurprising.

For context, Fowler is one of the most multicultural communities in the country. The ALP’s endorsement of Senator Keneally, a wealthy white Senator from Sydney’s North Shore, has come at the cost of sidelining Tu Le – a community advocate of Vietnamese heritage who has a demonstrated record of advocating for the Fowler electorate.

Over the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to get more involved in multicultural affairs. It often means speeches and attendance at events filled with politicians across the political spectrum. The one thing that stands out at these functions is that whilst we have so many willing and good-natured supporters of multiculturalism, donning saris and getting involved in cultural celebrations, there are almost no ethnic representatives at the state or federal level of government. As someone that has lived my whole life in Western Sydney, the hub of Australia’s cultural diversity, I have rarely seen a person of colour pre-selected to represent our diverse communities.

My qualm in the Fowler matter isn’t against Senator Keneally herself. She has proven herself a fierce advocate and one that many would agree is an asset to Parliament. However, it is undoubtedly possible to have someone of Senator Keneally’s talent remain in Parliament without denying multicultural communities a chance to lead on a national stage. Indeed, from a strategic standpoint, someone of her profile would stand an excellent chance of being re-elected to the Senate or winning back marginal seats. Nevertheless, in the worst-case scenario, if giving an opportunity to a multicultural Australian who reflects the story of her community to lead one of Australia’s most multicultural seats means the former Premier of NSW ultimately misses one term of Parliament – so be it.

READ ALSO: We’ve lost the trust of Western Sydney and it’s critical we repair it

Multicultural communities have waited far too long to be represented on the national stage.  We cannot continue telling ethnic Australians to wait their turn. We have waited. Yet convenient resolutions to factional disputes are continually prioritised over multicultural voices. When our politicians do not adequately or fairly reflect the communities they seek to serve, it is no wonder so many are disenfranchised by politics.

My argument here is also not to say that representatives must always be from the communities they seek to represent. However, in the Australian context, this is a crucial opportunity missed. Despite celebrating multiculturalism, Australia’s parliament lags far behind the rest of the Western world in reflecting that diversity – to the extent the British Conservative Party boasts more diversity than even our most progressive parties here.

The blunt message from Labor’s own Anne Aly is worth repeating: “Diversity and equality and multiculturalism can’t just be a trope that Labor pulls out and parades while wearing a sari and eating some kung pao chicken to make ourselves look good.”

Her message is relevant across the political spectrum. Support for multiculturalism cannot be limited to perfunctory attendance at community events. It is more than just having a go at bhangra or posting photos of the curry you cooked. It means actually supporting diverse communities to access meaningful platforms to advocate for themselves. Indeed, we are often told that the beauty of multicultural Australia is that everyone can have their voice heard, regardless of where they are from. But what good is that voice when we’re denied access to the very platforms where that voice can make a meaningful difference to our communities?

I may not know Tu Le, but her story is one that reflects multicultural Australia more broadly.  She has decided that regardless of the almost impossible task ahead of her, she will fight to represent Fowler. It’s a fight she will almost certainly lose.

But I hope that decision to fight will serve as a catalyst for all multicultural communities to make it known that we will not be taken for granted and that we deserve to have our voices heard. Our communities cannot afford to remain passive in these matters. As multicultural Australians, we cannot afford to stand idly by. Remaining passive observers to these issues allows our representatives to believe that meaningless factional battles can continue to take precedence over the interests of the diverse communities they are supposed to represent.

Ultimately, whilst we will continue to appreciate good-natured allies of multiculturalism, our people can do more than just help you wear an elegant sari. They can lead.

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Khushaal Vyas
Khushaal Vyas
Khushaal Vyas is a recipient of the Premier's Multicultural Youth Medal and resident of South-Western Sydney. He believes he holds the world record for most consecutive days of wearing a hoodie in lockdown.

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