Labor has decided to nominate former Premier of New South Wales Kristina Keneally, who lives in the Northern Beaches, for a South-West Sydney seat over a local woman of colour. Sounds about white, gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss.
On Friday, Senator Keneally confirmed she would move from the city’s north to south-west Sydney to run as the preselected candidate for the safe Labor seat of Fowler after ALP branch members urged her to.
Fowler is an electorate with one of the most multicultural populations in the country, and an area where there are more people who identify as culturally Vietnamese (16%) than Australian (8%), according to Census data. It includes Cabramatta, Fairfield, and Liverpool and is famously a Labor leaning seat with a 14% margin.
Given those stats, Fowler’s retiring MP Chris Hayes isn’t backing Keneally but gunning for Tu Le, a local Vietnamese-Australian lawyer who has grown up in Western Sydney. Le has spoken out about how local members of Fowler have been “punished for speaking English as a second or third language” and how the area has been “painted as the villain of the NSW COVID fable” during this current outbreak.
Much like other young Australian women in politics (like Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman and Victoria’s first First Nations Senator Lidia Thorpe), she embodies what the future of Australian politics should be. So, the idea of bringing over a renowned white politician from the Northern Beaches, an area with a predominantly Anglo-centric population, to secure a multicultural seat that already sways in Labor’s favour for the next federal election is laughable.
In a statement on her Facebook page about the pre-selection for Fowler this week, Le explained the hardships and self-doubt she’s experienced as a young woman of colour running in politics.
“Will I be good enough? Will people support me? Will I survive the political and personal attacks? Will my identity be used against me? I constantly asked myself the questions I knew others were thinking,” she said in the Facebook post below.
As Hayes told the ABC in March: “It would be sensational to be able to not only say that we in Labor are the party of multiculturalism but to actually show it in our faces.”
Federal Labor MP and Muslim-Australian woman Anne Aly has called out the party’s decision to nominate Senator Keneally over Le, labeling it as hypocritical and a tokenistic approach to diversity. Other Labor MPs have reportedly privately said that it’s a “bad look” and “Labor at its worst”. They’re right and they should say it.
“Diversity and equality and multiculturalism can’t just be a trope that Labor pulls out and parades while wearing a sari and eating some kung pao chicken to make ourselves look good,” Aly told the ABC.
Interestingly, when asked about this on ABC’s Insiders program this morning, Shadow Minister for Education and Women Tanya Plibersek, who has been a well-known face in the Labor Party for years, refused to take a stance. Instead, she urged Tu Le to “stick with it”.
“I really hope that she sticks with it because her work standing up for exploited migrant workers, her connection to the Vietnamese community and the Buddhist community, that’s exactly the sort of experience Labor wants to see in our federal Parliament,” she said.
“We have a very diverse Parliamentary group. We’ve got people from all different racial, religious, ethnic backgrounds, we’re half female…”
"Do you support it or not?"— Insiders ABC (@InsidersABC) September 11, 2021
"I will give you this message for Tu Le: I really hope that she sticks with it."
WATCH: David Speers asks @tanya_plibersek whether she supports Labor's move to back Kristina Keneally for the seat of Fowler over a local lawyer #Insiders #auspol pic.twitter.com/ksKDhfe4iV
“Kristina Keneally is an important part of my team, I’ve been a friend of hers for a very long period of time, and she has enormous capacity,” Federal Labor Leader Anthony Albanese added.
“In whatever form that capacity is offered, she will be a key minister in the Labor government that I hope to form after next election.”
This decision could imply that Labor is nervous about their success in the federal election, but many have fairly labeled this as another case of white privilege in Australian politics and bias towards people like Tu Le.
“The assumption by some NSW Labor powerbroker that Senator Keneally would ensure the people and communities of Fowler would be better represented is condescending,” said Jieh-Yung Lo, Director of the Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership at The Australian National University in Canberra.
“The reality is leadership comes in many forms these days, not just the abilities to generate media soundbites and tweets.”
The fact federal Labor keeps citing the same four or five non-Anglo parliamentarians as evidence they're a diverse party … kinda undermines the argument.— Benjamin Law 羅旭能 (@mrbenjaminlaw) September 11, 2021
Other parties are just as ordinary.
Tu Le has been unfairly snubbed. Kristina Keneally is a wonderful politician, but surely she could campaign for, and win a different seat.— Scotty's Soiled Trousers #BLM Ⓥ???????? (@HelenSm76464997) September 11, 2021
Kristina Keneally, who said her decision was inspired by her “passion for social justice”, has released a statement detailing how the people of Fowler have had it rough during this outbreak. But, to me, it really doesn’t make sense for the party to advocate for someone who’s not part of the community and doesn’t know what these people have been through firsthand.