Today marks exactly ten years since the Cabramatta by-election in 2008. Ten years since the day I decided to contest a very safe Labor seat – with a 30 per cent margin – for the Liberal Party of NSW.
“It’s Mad. It’s Bonkers. But All Great People Are” – The Mad Hatter
Friends have often described me as ‘mad’, to do what I do, being involved in politics.
But the last ten years have opened my eyes to the influence one can have if you’re in the political arena. The footpaths, the roads, the local parks, the set of traffic lights, the public transport system, your local hospital, your local schools, the population in your area, your public library, the food on your table, your small business, and your taxes. It’s all got to do with politics.
Your local hospital or school would be in better condition and would have the most up-to-date equipment and technology, if your elected representative had a strong voice, and fights passionately to get the much needed resources, for example.
But I can also understand why people like me, and women in particular of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, are a rare commodity in the political arena.
It’s an aggressive game. It’s a game that requires you to exaggerate the truths (whatever the truth maybe). For some in politics, it requires saying one thing to one person, and saying the complete opposite to another without blinking an eye. It requires a good poker face (although you must understand the game of poker). It requires that you’re able to offer the world, without delivering anything, and still can go to bed at night without having to have the conscience to feel guilty.
Being brought up Asian (or the Vietnamese way) and a Catholic, I was taught to be modest, to listen and not argue, to respect authority and those in higher positions of power in society. I was taught not to question. I was expected to be compliant, obedient, quiet and work hard. I was expected to listen to my elders, to choose a profession that’s respectable within the community, which are other thought to be things like: doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, optometrist, a chemist or pharmacist. These professions are perceived to be ones that help and aid people.
I didn’t quite make it, or had no desire, to be in any of those professions. Instead I fell into doing an Arts degree, having no idea where that would lead me. But I did end up becoming a journalist, a reporter and a broadcaster with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Becoming a journalist untaught me the skills and values I learned as an Australian of Vietnamese heritage. I was forced to ask questions; I had to challenge authorities, I couldn’t just comply and be obedient. I had to assert myself and literally put my foot in the door to get a story. I had to unlearn the many years of being a Vietnamese child and unlearn a way of speaking and behaving I’d always known, in order to succeed in the world of journalism.
Imagine going from the world of a Confucius Catholic daughter, to the world of reporting in Western society. Then imagine again when I took that leap into a more ‘darker’ world, into politics. When I told friends and colleagues at the ABC that I was having making a run at politics in September 2008, many commented that I’m venturing to the ‘dark side”. I had no idea what they meant! I had no idea what the world of politics was like. I had no connections to the political world. As a reporter, one learned to be skeptical of any press releases sent by politicians. And here I was, about to embark on that journey.
I was a complete novice in September 2008 when, after returning from a trip to Malaysia to report on a Foreign Correspondents’ story on the Vietnamese boatpeople, I reached out to the NSW Liberal Party, and asked that I represent the party in this very safe Labor seat. They had no idea who I was, as I had no profile other than being a reporter with the ABC. My only claim was that I grew up in Cabramatta and had arrived in the area as a Vietnamese refugee with my family. I felt strongly that the community has been neglected by the elected representatives – mainly by Members of Parliament from the Labor Party, the scourge of many ‘safe’ seats. As a child refugee who came under the Fraser Government, when he opened the country and accepted the resettlement of Vietnamese refugees, I saw myself more aligned to the Liberal Party values despite the Anti-Asian sentiment espoused by John Howard, prior to him becoming a Prime Minister.
The NSW Liberal Party accepted my nomination to run for the seat of Cabramatta on October 18th, 2008. The Party was then under the leadership of Opposition Leader, Barry O’Farrell, who had a genuine willingness to engage and embraced the culturally diverse communities in NSWm and in particular, in Sydney’s South West.
We had about three weeks to campaign, and I handed out this brochure at train stations in Cabramatta and Canley Vale. The first article on my candidacy was published on Sunday, September 29th, 2008, about a week after I made the decision to be a candidate.
The rest they say, is history.
During that first election, Dai Le achieved a 21.8 per cent swing to the Liberal Party and came within 7.2 per cent of beating then Labor candidate.
Dai recently shared how her experience in politics has been ‘enabling’ over empowering. Read the piece here.