Australian Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese met with selected members of Sydney’s Indian community in Western Sydney on May 6.
As a guest of the Hindu Council of Australia (HCA), he was joined by prominent members of his team, including Kristina Kenneally Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Michelle Rowland (member of Greenway), Andrew Giles (member of Scullin ) and Chris Bowen. (member of McMahon), as well as Andrew Charlton and Sally Sitou, Labor candidates for Parramatta and Reid respectively.
The Hindu Council of Australia had invited leaders of both political parties to address the concerns of the Indian community, and the ALP accepted the offer first.
During a dinner with 200 other guests, HCA Vice President Surinder Jain posed questions to Mr. Albanese on behalf of the community.
In his opening speech, Albanese commended the Indian community for the hard work they do and their contribution to Australian values. He pointed out that Australia is a microcosm of the world in terms of the benefits of multiculturalism.
At this point, he added that it was the first non-Anglo-Celtic surname in the history of Australian politics to compete for the post of Prime Minister of the nation.
“Australia is a land of opportunity, but with wages falling and the cost of living rising it is becoming difficult for many,” he noted.
In the interaction with Albanese, the first question raised was what support the Indian community could expect from the Labor Party for culturally appropriate elderly care. Ethno-specific care for our elders continues to elude the South Asian community and remains a major topic of discussion.
“One of the things I know and admire about your community is the respect you have for your elders – that’s a defining characteristic. They want to cherish the culture of their origin and it is especially important to have proper care for the elderly,” agreed Mr. Albanese.
He took the opportunity to highlight the big difference between the two parties on elder care and the importance of ethno-specific elder care.
“Our aged care plan, which I announced in the budget response, [is that] we will address these issues in accordance with the findings of the Royal Commission report. It is imperative that we allow older members of the community to live with dignity and respect in their old age. This means ensuring food, language and practices are culturally sensitive.
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He took a similar approach when asked about Labor plans to support Indian language and culture for the next generation.
“One of the strengths we have here in multicultural Australia is […] young people learn the culture of their parents which is transmitted to them. It is important that they take part in Australian culture, but that does not mean forgetting the culture of their parents. This is something that the Indian community has done very well,” Albanese noted.
He reiterated Labour’s recently announced $30,000 grant scheme to community language schools, observing that it is an ‘asset’ for Australia to have people with language skills that can be used to help deepen bilateral ties.
Another recent attempt to deepen ties between the two countries has been the Australia-India Economic and Trade Cooperation Agreement (ECTA), which Albanese says “is not comprehensive enough”.
“We said there should be an Indo-Australian economic dialogue meeting every year. We would also support India’s participation in APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) and if India chooses to apply for RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership), we would be very supportive of that,” he said. Explain.
He added: “The relationship between Australia and India has been one that strengthens our two economies in the future.”
On the issue of Labor refugee policy in light of the persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh, Anthony Albanese noted that his shadow home minister, Kristina Kennelly, had raised the issue of rising extremism and persecution. On top of that, Ms Kennelly said welcoming refugees ‘must be non-discriminatory and support those most at risk’.
She blamed the Coalition for reducing the humanitarian supply – and provided no post-COVID plan. She said the Labor government would consider a community sponsorship scheme which would provide additional staff, partnering with faith, civic and business communities to sponsor refugees. “Community involvement can increase admission without increasing the cost to the taxpayer,” she noted.
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On the question of faster and cheaper migration visas for relatives, another major concern, especially for more recent migrants, there was no clear answer from the Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Albanese instead spoke about the long delay in partner visas and other current obstacles. It would appear that the ALP does not have a policy so far on a better migration experience for parents.
The possibility of a Labor-Green deal after the election was also raised. Mr Albanese was asked his stance on ‘Hinduphobia’, such as claims made by Greens MP David Shoebridge. What would Mr Albanese do to stop them, and would Labor consider not giving preference to the Greens?
In his response, Mr Albanese avoided most issues, apart from the fact that Labor wants to win this election in its own right.
The issue of preserving the swastika for Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, rather than being banned as a Nazi symbol of hate, has also been raised. Both Mr. Albanese and Ms. Kenneally have promised to advocate on behalf of the community.
It turned out to be a well planned interactive session and Mr. Albanese seemed friendly and open. However, as there were no follow-up questions, the two politicians on stage, Mr Albanese and Ms Kenneally, were able to circumvent a number of issues in their responses. Nonetheless, it was an evening where guests were able to formally interact with potentially the next Prime Minister of Australia.
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