Multicultural candidates from across the political spectrum say they are being subjected to race hate during the ACT election campaign, despite the fact that they are Australians first and foremost.
The embarrassment at having your accent or culture publically made fun of has also deterred a great number of potentially excellent candidates and community-centric representatives from running for the Legislative Assembly, candidates told Region Media.
“This is home for us,” Labor MLA Deepak-Raj Gupta said.
“I am Australian, to be honest. I have been here for 32 years, I have been here longer than in India, my kids were born here.”
But despite this, Mr Gupta is still inundated with racial abuse as a stipend for his service in the Assembly.
After 20 years of community service, Mr Gupta decided to run for the Legislative Assembly in 2016. He failed to secure a seat in Yerrabi, but he ended up becoming the first Indian-born person to hold a position in the Assembly in 2019 when he replaced outgoing Health Minister Meegan Fitzharris after her shock retirement.
“It is very important that we have more representation of people from culturally diverse backgrounds and especially women,” Mr Gupta said.
“It is about improving and having confidence and people saying ‘yes, we have adopted you in our society, you are equal. You can play the same role as anybody else’.”
Liberals candidate for Murrumbidgee Amardeep Singh is also fighting for more diverse representation in the ACT Legislative Assembly where there are currently only three MLAs from non-Caucasian backgrounds.
“Everything is second-hand information until you have someone there representing you,” Mr Singh said.
But while the language barrier could be a problem for some, Mr Singh still encouraged culturally diverse people to step forward because of the high level of understanding in Canberra. Most immigrants coming to Canberra are also arriving on a skilled visa, meaning they often have English proficiency, he said.
“Sometimes language can be a barrier, but the education standard of people coming to the ACT means it is not a big issue. So if you can make a difference, regardless of your ethnicity.”
Independent for Yerrabi Dr Fuxin Li said it is the connections built by people in their own communities that enable them to foster a more harmonious relationship with government.
“Canberra is a multicultural community,” he said. “I am not a politician but I want to represent the community and give the community a voice.
“We need more of the multicultural communities to stand up to represent the local community.”
Their words give credence to the axiom ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’ as a lack of representation or role models can cause people from ethnically diverse backgrounds to self-censor themselves for fear of ridicule or racist remarks.
And this needs to be addressed with a more concerted effort than just putting a tokenistic ethnic person at the bottom of an electoral ticket, Greens candidate Mainul Haque said.
“There needs to be more of an effort from the political establishment. We do not want quotas; we want people to reach out and give us a fair go,” Mr Haque said.
“Ethnic communities are highly driven and accomplished people. This election is a good start but there is a long way to go.”
Running for the Greens in Yerrabi, Mr Haque says people from ethnically diverse communities can help parties grow and gain a more diverse set of views when questioned on why a person with some socially conservative inclinations – such as LGBTQI issues – would want to run for the Greens.
“There are issues that everyone needs to be concerned about. The Greens are the only ones standing up for refugees and migrants,” Mr Haque said, lambasting Labor and Liberal approaches to offshore and mandatory detention practices.
“[The Greens’] social values are better than other parties,” he said, citing that the party was the first to promise a large multipurpose community centre in Canberra.
Despite all four candidates being from various countries across Asia and holding diverse political views, all were unified in their encouragement for people of all races and ethnicities to represent their communities if they are able to.
“I never thought when I came to this country with $50 I would make it to this level,” Mr Gupta said.
“The world is changing and people from subcontinental Asia are coming and they are bringing strengths.
“You will receive a lot of nasty messages, so my advice is to look for the good and supportive people.”