Tu Le, the Vietnamese Australian candidate from western Sydney who wants to represent Labor for the safe seat of Fowler, says installing the NSW senator Kristina Keneally into the seat is a “missed opportunity” to properly represent the culturally diverse electorate.
Le, who is being backed by the outgoing Labor MP Chris Hayes, also said that while she believed there was broad respect for the former NSW premier, the move to parachute her into the seat would be badly received by some.
“Definitely I think there will be people that will be disappointed and feel somewhat betrayed, particularly for those that are more engaged in politics,” Le told Guardian Australia.
“But I think, too, some people might not care too much because you know it’s nothing new to have an outsider represent the community, so you’ll get both sides.”
Keneally, Labor’s deputy Senate leader, has resolved to run for the lower house seat of Fowler to avert a preselection skirmish with her rightwing colleague Deborah O’Neill in a move that is being backed by party powerbrokers.
In a statement to Guardian Australia, Keneally said she had been approached by ALP branch members “urging me to consider nomination for the seat of Fowler”.
“I am humbled by this encouragement. I’ll have more to say about this in the coming days.”
Le said that while Keneally was well known having attended many events in the community while premier, “she has no connection at all to the community”.
“I have no doubt that she would make a great contribution … and I think it’s something that our community are quite used to anyway, what saddens me is that we always seem to be taken for granted,” she said.
“People seem to just roll their eyes at that, and say, that’s just how it works here, but at the end of the day I really think it’s the community that are disadvantaged by that.
“Our system claims to be representative, so you would think that logically that should be the case, and our communities should be reflected in parliament.
“It’s important for the future of the party as well, so I think that putting me aside, it would have been a great opportunity for the party … and so I think it’s a missed opportunity, without any disrespect to Senator Keneally.”
‘Our parliament should reflect our constituencies’
Hayes, who has made clear his preference for Le to succeed him in the seat, also criticised the move by Sussex Street, saying the Vietnamese diaspora made up about 23% of the electorate, and Le would have been a better choice.
Le, a lawyer who works representing migrant workers in NSW, is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees and a youth leader at the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association.
“It had been my ambition to be succeeded by a local identity and probably somebody who reflected the aims and aspirations of the area, and indeed, demonstrated the actual face of the community,” Hayes told Guardian Australia.
“Tu would not fit the bill of being a career politician. She is a committed member of the community, a leader in the Buddhist community and if we’re going to assert that we are the party of multiculturalism, perhaps it should be reflected on the faces who walk into our caucus room.
“I actually believe that the makeup of our parliament should reflect our constituencies. I’ve got the highest proportion of Vietnamese of any electorate, and yet we don’t have a single Vietnamese person in the parliament.”
Hayes also said he had not been consulted about the plan to parachute Keneally into the seat, and only learned of it after being contacted by journalists.
“I’m being told by others that his has been on the agenda for some time, well if that is the case, no one spoke to me about it.”
He said while it may have resolved the Senate ticket for the party, it had come at the expense of the local community.
“They probably think this is the way out of it, and maybe it is, but I just would have hoped they put the interest of the community first,” he said.
He said he had made his views known to the party, and had been “disappointed” by the process.
“Realistically, we’re facing election some time probably early in the new year. Something like this is probably not the best look for a party that’s trying to actually maximise its vote.”
Keneally’s shift to the lower house comes after she and right faction colleague O’Neill became locked in an internal battle over who would secure the top position for the party’s Senate ticket.
O’Neill had secured strong backing from unions and wanted the number one spot, despite Keneally being the party’s deputy leader in the Senate and in the shadow cabinet.