There are times when we sit back and think, how and why do these things happen? Like how is it possible or even feasible to parachute a very wealthy, privileged middle aged white guy from Bellevue Hill who lives in a $16 million mansion overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge into the culturally diverse Western Sydney seat of Parramatta for the upcoming federal election by NSW Labor.
The parachuting of Andrew Charlton who was formally a Kevin Rudd advisor is literally a slap in the face for the rank and file in Parramatta and demonstrates how tone deaf Australia’s major political parties are. Without Charlton the hopefuls to stand as the Labor candidate for Parramatta would have been Asian Australian women. With the retirement of incumbent Labor MP Julie Owens after this election, this is a red hot seat for Labor not to lose.
According to the Guardian Australia, NSW Labor spent significant time checking out potential high profile candidates who they deemed as having some sort of celebrity status and Charlton was the “chosen one”. The other 4 potential candidates who were looked at and approached to consider contesting the seat were all as usual white and they were 3 men and 1 woman. This list includes former NSW state MP David Borger and Sydney barrister Cameron Murphy.
Without this so called parachuting the likely rank and file would have selected a culturally diverse candidate to contest – and this includes Durga Owen, a former staffer for retiring MP Julie Owens from the party’s soft left faction, Abha Devasia, a lawyer from Labor’s hard left and ormer Sydney Morning Herald journalist Alan Mascarenhas – all will miss out with the installment of a privileged white male.
One of the rank and file potentials Devasia spoke to the Guardian about the disappointment in bypassing the rank and file process:
“That seat is one of the most diverse in Australia and it’s a reflection of our country,”
“We don’t see that in parliament. We can’t talk about multiculturalism as a festival or as something nice in Harmony Week. It’s about allowing us to be part of the decision making process.”
Owen expressed similar sentiment and stated that she was disappointed at this decision.
However, retiring MP Julie Owens recently told the Daily Mail a different point of view, after Devasia pointed out appointing Charlton was a “tone deaf” decision:
“Across the board, parliament has an issue that it doesn’t necessarily reflect who we are as a nation at this point,’
“Parliament generally needs to swing but no particular electorate should be this or that – if we get this right, we’ll run a candidate of colour, of different cultural backgrounds in the Shire or in a regional seat.“
‘When it does reflect who we are, you won’t be saying this electorate has 30 per cent Chinese so therefore we run a Chinese candidate.’
“The cultural background won’t be a hindrance anywhere and nor, by the way, will being a white, successful man be a hindrance,’
‘It’s a naïve position to think that only cultural diverse electorates should have culturally-diverse members – “You can’t run a white man in a culturally diverse electorate”.’
Hmmm… a pretty simplistic and culturally insensitive view from the retiring MP if I may offer my 2 cents worth. Thinking back this was pretty much the same thing that happened to Tu Le a while back when Kristina Keneally was parachuted into Fowler squashing any chance of Fowler having a Vietnamese Australian candidate. Even with Reid, where Asian Aussie Sally Sitou is the pre-selected candidate, NSW Labor originally wanted high-profile businesswoman Sam Mostyn to run, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
To me all this smells fishy and is an example of the structural racism candidates who are not white or Indigenous face. It is as though no matter how long our communities have made and called Australia home, when we try to participate in the political process we get told to look the other way and make room from a white candidate. What is our worth and our value to Australian political parties? That is the question which still needs to be answered.
To end, here are some of the frustrations expressed by others who are either insiders or close to knowing the inner machinations of the Labor Party.
Images via Sydney Morning Herald and Guardian Australia