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Australia Multicultural candidates make their voices heard in Victorian local government elections

23:16  16 october  2020
23:16  16 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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a person smiling for the camera: Jasmine Nguyen is running for a local council seat in Brimbank. (Supplied) © Provided by ABC Health Jasmine Nguyen is running for a local council seat in Brimbank. (Supplied)

Jasmine Nguyen says she comes from people with a history of resilience.

The daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Ms Nguyen said the privilege of being born in Australia has been deeply ingrained in her, along with the sense of responsibility to "give back".

This year, the 23-year-old is running for a seat on the Brimbank council in Melbourne's western suburbs.

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She's one of several candidates from different cultural backgrounds taking part in the Victorian local government elections.

They want to see more diverse representation by the time mail-in voting closes next week.

Jasmine Nguyen: 'Representation really matters'

Ms Nguyen's mother, the daughter of a South Vietnamese Army colonel, fled the war-torn country when she was still a teenager.

On the escape boat, she met Ms Nguyen's father for the first time.

"That is quite the first date — very dramatic dating," Ms Nguyen said.

Her parents were fearful of encountering pirates, being caught by the government — which could have resulted in prison time or death — or sinking.

But after three days they were intercepted and taken to a refugee camp in Malaysia, before being resettled in Australia in 1982.

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Ms Nguyen said her parents were incredibly grateful to Australia for taking them in, and for the education and opportunities, including the freedom to express themselves and vote in a democracy.

This year marks 45 years since the first Vietnamese refugees came to Australia in 1975, and Ms Nguyen is one of six second-generation Vietnamese Australians to run for local council seats in 2020.

"There's still not enough representation of Vietnamese Australians in leadership, media, politics," Ms Nguyen said.

"We could be the voice, and the bridge between two different generations and two different cultures."

Brimbank is one of the most multicultural local government areas in the state, with just under half its population being born overseas.

Ms Nguyen said the youth demographic was also under-represented, despite 40 per cent of the local population being under 30.

"Representation really matters because you need to have diverse perspectives on the council," she said.

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She said historically in Australia, ethnic minorities like Greeks, Italians and Vietnamese faced not only the challenges of learning a new language in a foreign country, but racism too.

"The Vietnamese Australian community can empathise with what the new waves of migrants and refugees are going through. Now being one of the more established communities in Australia, we want to give back and help them too," she said.

"It's important to embrace both cultures, use them as a strength, not as a disadvantage."

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Amina Liban was just seven years old when she moved to Australia with her family from Somalia.

Coming from a completely different culture, Ms Liban said it was "quite a shock" for her and her eight siblings at that time.

She never thought that 20 years later she would be running for a council seat in Banyule, in Melbourne's north-east.

Although she's seen progress in terms of cultural acceptance and inclusivity in Victoria, she told the ABC that there was still a lack of opportunities for people of colour.

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"It's kind of like you're trying to provide service to a certain community [but] if you're not culturally aware to meet those community needs, how then do you provide the best service?"

Ms Liban said she wanted to represent people with African heritage and the Muslim faith, like her, but she also wanted to see more women involved.

"Within council overall, I think there's not [enough] gender balance," she said.

Ms Liban said it was disappointing to see "a very ugly" stigmatisation to her community during the pandemic.

In July, two Melbourne public housing estates were put in mandatory lockdown. Some African Australian residents told the ABC they felt like they were "in a prison".

Muslim leaders also said the community was "unfairly tarnished" by reports linking COVID-19 infections to Eid celebrations.

"The changes that I hope to make [are] … educating people, being a voice and advocating [for] them," she said.

"Just asking … or finding out what certain communities are about instead of putting a blanket on all Africans, Muslims, or just anybody in general."

She hopes her council run will be one way to help end the stigmatisation of people from different cultural backgrounds.

"Ultimately, they've got the freedom to think whatever they want to, but what they think or what they have in mind is not really what reality is."

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Calvin Chin: 'Be proud of our own ethnic background'

Malaysian Chinese man Calvin Chin has spent much of the past 34 years working as an engineer and in company management.

He's looking towards semi-retirement, but wants to put his skillset and background to good use.

"The conclusion was I need to represent the new Australians, the migrants, and best represent the Asian ethnicities," he said.

Mr Chin is one of 20 candidates of Chinese heritage running for a council seat — in his case, he is running for the first time as a Liberal-aligned candidate for Monash City Council.

Although almost a quarter of the local population have Chinese ancestry, only one of the 10 current councillors is of Chinese background.

"A lot of Asian migrants here are first generation … their voices are not being heard," he said.

"Firstly, because they are culturally different. They don't speak up. They are timid.

"Secondly, language barrier. They don't want to or don't know how to communicate with the people, councillors."

Mr Chin said that his campaign on Facebook received a mix of comments, some of which were "very negative" and "totally not on the subject".

"Caucasians, half of them will say, 'that's good, Calvin', and the other half — a small per cent — will say, 'stop Chinese eating bats'… So you do have a mixed bag of people."

Mr Chin said the current tensions between Australia and China have added extra stress for candidates like him.

This week another candidate, Li Zhang, running for Glen Eira Council, told the Age she had been cyberbullied and accused of being a Chinese Communist Party agent.

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But Mr Chin hopes the political tension is temporary. He says migrants should be proud of their ethnic background.

"I think this will change," Mr Chin said.

"We have to be proud of our own ethnic background. Meaning, it doesn't matter whether you are Indian, you are Chinese or any other ethnicity, you hold strong to your ethnic tradition and culture.

"This will make Australia a very interesting and strong country."

Praveen Kumar: 'Flabbergasted by what this country provided'

Praveen Kumar migrated from Hyderabad in India to Australia when he was 21 years old, in 1999.

He began working hard and was struck by the "dignity of labour" here.

"I was really flabbergasted by what this country provided for new migrants; how welcoming they are," he said.

"I felt so overwhelmed by the respect I was given, even though I was a dishwasher."

A Labor candidate for Moreland City Council in Melbourne's inner-north, Mr Kumar said he had always had an interest in politics.

"After I migrated here, it was head down, butt up and working, but I've always had that aspiration in me to give back to the community that's given me so much," he said.

His marriage to his wife, who is originally from Kathmandu, saw him embraced by the local Nepalese community too.

He'd like to establish sister city links with a city in Nepal to celebrate cultures and encourage tourism.

He said the South Asian community had made great strides professionally with doctors, engineers and business people playing key roles in society, but politically, they remained under-represented.

"And I thought I wanted to change that and be a voice and advocate for my community," he said.

He said new South Asian migrants setting up businesses were often not well-versed in the political system and were unaware of what support or grants were available to them.

Another issue he wanted to address was domestic violence, and he said the pandemic had also taken a toll on Indian and Nepalese international students, many of whom worked in casual jobs in hard-hit sectors.

"Local government is the closest form of government to the community," he said.

"With the Indian and South Asian diaspora, they are very hesitant to ask for anything, because they think there's something wrong if they ask," he said.

"It's all about approachability. And I think it brings the confidence among the people that if you have someone from your background, you're heard a bit better."

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