Rare sightings

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PAWAN LUTHRA on NSW Premier as he completes a year in office

Premier Barry O’Farrell seemed to be on the right track when he electioneered with his strategy to increase NSW’s engagement with India through the power of the local Indians living here. Sadly, one year after assuming power, he has done little to harness this energy and seems to have lost interest in the local Indian community.

Two months prior to the election in March 2011, there was a buzz at the January 26 Republic Day flag hoisting ceremony at Consul General Amit Dasgupta’s residence when Mr O’Farrell popped in unexpectedly. While there was muted debate about ‘gate crashing’ on India’s national day, to the hundreds who had gathered there, it was a great opportunity to shake hands with NSW’s Premier-in-waiting. The then opposition leader was a man on a mission, seen at all Indian get-togethers as he set about winning the hearts and minds of the NSW’s Indian Australians. A number of low-key functions were thrust into the spotlight as Mr O’Farrell confirmed his attendance with a selected entourage. With his speeches relating to the growing importance of India and his desire to connect with Indians here, he won the approval of the community who were looking for a change from the ongoing peccadilloes of the state Labor government. There was an expectation that when Mr O’Farrell came to power, he would work with the community towards helping them achieve some of their cherished goals, like assistance in procuring a venue to establish an Indian centre.

Twelve months on, the new Premier is nowhere to be seen. While earlier his presence took him to various places in outer western Sydney to meet and greet local Indians, his Indian links now seem to be restricted to the more salubrious gatherings at five star events and the Sydney Cricket Ground. While his Minister for Multicultural Affairs has been extremely accessible to the Indian community, there has been limited advancing of issues Indian in mainstream NSW. Acknowledging that these things take time, 12 months on, it is disappointing to note that little progress has been made to reach out to NSW Indian Australians at a more grassroots level.

There are still at least three more years to go, and during this time it will be terrific to note greater engagement.

A visit to India soon after the election was a welcome sign. A Ministerial Consultative Committee (MCC) for the Indian community was established in early November 2011 to advise Victor Dominello, Minister for Citizenship and Communities on behalf of the NSW Government, on the needs, interests and concerns of Australians of Indian heritage in NSW. The state’s Multicultural Business Summit was held  in December 2011, and it will be interesting to note any progress from these various committees.

Meanwhile, it will be good to note and acknowledge more sightings of the Premier at various Indian gatherings; he did once profess his love for naan and butter chicken, a staple offering at all Indian gatherings in Sydney.

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