You’re currently the MP of Reid, one of Australia’s most diverse electorates composed of Australians with Chinese, Indian, Korean, Sri Lankan, Italian, Greek and Middle Eastern heritage and many faith communities. How do you make sure you are satisfactorily representing your community?
The only way you can represent a community well is to go out and listen to them to find out what they care about, their priorities and concerns. And during the course of the campaign for the Federal Election, that's exactly what I did - go out to speak to people and be present. I just don't know how you can be an effective member of parliament without doing that first. Then after that, you really need to be helping them - making sure we get the right policies in place, making healthcare more affordable for families who are saying that it's just getting too expensive, or looking after our aged care sector because people have really real concerns about their parents or grandparents who are in the aged care sector.
So there’s helping our community from a policy level, but helping them at an individual level as well. A lot of people don't know what their member of parliament does, but people can come to our office for any issue relating to a federal department - e.g. immigration, the tax office, NDIS - and we can help them at that very individual level.
That's the beauty of this job. It’s all about service to others, and making sure that they get the help that they need.
Did you ever think you would or could run for Parliament? What made you decide to run in the end?
I never thought I would run for Federal Parliament. I had entertained the idea of being a representative, but at the local council level. I thought that it would be great because of my real interest in the community. There would be things that I could work on that would make a real difference. I actually was on the Labour ticket, very briefly, for Strathfield council.
Federal government was never something that I had entertained because in my mind. That was for people of the caliber Senator Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, my old boss Jason Clare. They were just people that I really admired. So in my mind, I thought that I wasn’t of that caliber. It wasn’t until I spoke to others about how there wasn’t a Labour candidate for Reid yet, and these same people suggested that I should run, that made me dream a bit bigger and expand what I thought was possible for myself.
That was the moment when I realised that I could run, and then it changed to the fact that I should run - I had been talking for so long how our Federal Parliament failed to reflect the community; if I was talking about this for so long, and if it was something I really cared about, I realised that I needed to step up and do something about it.
That’s part of the reason why I decided to run. The main reason is because I wanted to change key values and policies - central to this is reforming how we approached climate change and the education sector. I’ve seen a decade of inaction on climate and recognised the urgency at which we need to act. And I knew that if we could win Reid, that we would be able to change the government and finally put in place some actions that would address climate change. With the education system - it’s been so central to the success of our family here. When I think about education I think about it from the entire lifespan. From birth - I would love for all kids to have access to an affordable early education, because it is such a rich environment for learning. Right through to primary, secondary and the tertiary sector. Having worked in the university sector, I saw how much they suffered during COVID-19. The government at the time completely wiped their hands of anything to do with the universities, and just let them sink on their own. This hands-off approach to the university sector, given the importance of it, was baffling to me and made me realise that I ought to step up.
I also ran because I really thought that I could put in the work to win the seat for Labour. I believed that I had the ability to work hard - knock on doors and do the unglamorous campaigning side of things because I enjoy it - I truly enjoy meeting people. In many respects, I have really come around to the type of caliber of person that is required to be a federal member of Parliament. I think that someone like me who enjoys meeting new people, wants to listen to their concerns and wants to meet with these community groups - that’s exactly the sort of person we need for the Federal Parliament.
Do you have any advice to those who want to get more involved in civic engagement but don't know how to?
First of all, it’s great that you want to get involved, and it’s also important that you want to get involved. And there are so many ways for you to get involved. You can work on a campaign, volunteer for unions, an NGO, or an advocacy organisation. Whatever your interest is, whatever the cause is that you want to push, there is undoubtedly a group of like-minded people who want to do the same as you, who you can meet with.
There's two things I'd say about getting involved. It's never been more important for people to have their voice heard. But also it’s incredibly fun. When you meet a group of people who have similar views to you, who are also passionate and want to do something about it - it’s simply a really lovely community to be part of. And that's why I was so proud of the campaign that we ran. We created a real community.