Opinion article

Migrants and refugees must be set up for success

Our migrant and refugee population must be equipped to positively contribute to the future of their community and this country. Every Australian, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity, should have the right to pursue the life of their dreams, writes Dai Le MP, Federal Member for Fowler.

I'm proud to be an Australian. I’m proud to wear my heart on my sleeve and I did just that on the day I delivered my first speech to Federal Parliament.

I chose to marry my Vietnamese heritage with our Australian flag because for me and many Vietnamese refugees who now call Australia home, the ao dai or traditional Vietnamese dress is a symbol of our heritage, and the Australian flag symbolises who we are now.

It’s a partnership that celebrates our past and our present, while celebrating the amalgamation of our heritage and culture.

In my south-western Sydney electorate of Fowler, we’ve been celebrating our cultural diversity for a very long time.

When I escaped war-torn Vietnam with my family in April 1975, I had no idea what the future held for me.  In fact, back then I wasn’t even sure if I had a future.

I would never have imagined that I would be here today representing my community of Fowler, one of the most diverse communities in Australia, and I'm extremely humbled for the opportunity.

My journey started from a small rickety boat, to growing up in housing commission, to finding my voice in storytelling through a career in journalism.   It was during my nearly two decades in journalism that I carved out a niche many journalists back in the 90s didn’t focus on: finding and giving voice to the stories of migrant and refugee communities.  But while providing a platform for the stories and life experiences of this group of people and where they lived, I realised they didn’t have a voice or say at the decision-making level, nor were they able to influence the outcomes of decisions that affected their lives and livelihoods. So, I decided to do something about it.

It was clear to me that there was (and still is) an abundance of opportunity in Australia, but for many people those possibilities were (and remain) unattainable.

I wanted to change that. I could be an advocate for people like me, residents and families who have made the journey to Australia from more than 130 different cultures and who now call Australia home. 

So, with some trepidation, in 2008 I jumped into the often confusing and always challenging world of local politics.  

Being an advocate and changemaker at a grassroots level requires a lot of passion and an enormous amount energy. I knew there were always going to be setbacks, but I worked hard to silence the voice of defeat that kept whispering in my ear and fought for my community.

After I was elected to Fairfield Council in September 2012, I often told myself that if I survived the boat journey, then surely I could survive local politics. And having fought breast cancer in October 2014, I felt I could continue my political journey to make a difference to my local community. This led to my decision to come forward, with my community’s encouragement, to contest the May 2022 Federal Election as an Independent for the seat of Fowler.

Today, I am proud and humbled to be part of the 47th Parliament of Australia, one of the 151 Parliamentarians elected to the House of Representatives, and one of 1240 elected since Federation. I understand that it’s one of the most diverse, and one where more Independents and women were elected than ever before in the history of Australia. The people of Australia chose us to be here and represent them. Both migrant and non-migrant communities understand the need for authentic representation.  

Across the country and especially in my electorate of Fowler, the role of migrants and refugees can never be underestimated. We are mothers, fathers, families and small-business owners. Our contribution to the economy and the community is driven by our passion to build a new life, a better life and most importantly by our gratitude for being here.

Every morning, I think about what I can do for my community of Fowler, and how to represent them effectively and be their voice. And as someone with a refugee background who started life without a word of English, and only the clothes on her back, I also think of the 52 per cent of my community who were born overseas;  we’ve walked in similar shoes. I think about the struggles and very specific issues that worry them and their families.

Between 2012 and 2017, nearly 10,000 refugees were resettled in my electorate, mostly in the Fairfield City Council area. That’s more than any other city in Australia. Since the Second World War, we have been a settlement city, and proudly so. 

But a settlement city has its own challenges. 

We have the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, at almost 10 per cent, which is about three times the national average of 3.5 per cent. Our median income is 20 per cent lower than the rest of the nation. Almost 77 per cent of our population lives in a family household and at least 20 per cent in a lone household. Forty-two per cent of our residents rent, compared with the New South Wales average of 32.6 per cent. 

While it might sound and feel good to bring in more people, we must ensure that they are set up to succeed and provided with housing, education and other opportunities. We cannot simply increase migration and then let people fend for themselves in a foreign country, leaving them feeling marginalised and demonised. It is the responsibility of the government of the day to ensure systems and plans are in place to enable a productive, cohesive and connected society. 

I want to see Fowler prosper. I want to see Australia prosper as a culturally inclusive diverse country. To do that, we must empower, educate and provide resources for new arrivals to our country.

I know this from my own experience – we didn’t have the chance to access some of the resources available today. And it is these resources, such as language services, education, access to job opportunities, housing, health and mental health that I am fighting for. New arrivals to any country have basic needs, and we cannot deny new arrivals the opportunities available to all Australians.

Our migrant and refugee population must be equipped to positively contribute to the future of their community and this country.

Every Australian, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity, should have the right to pursue the life of their dreams.

About the authors

Dai Le

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Dai Le MP is the new independent federal member for Fowler.

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