The fresh-faced local Vietnamese-Australian Labor lower house candidate for the division of Fowler, lawyer Tu Le, has been replaced in a shock move by the Australian Labor Party with Senator Kristina Keneally, the former state premier who serves as the party’s deputy leader.
Tu Le, who was backed by retiring Fowler MP Chris Hayes to replace him at the federal election next year, has revealed the move has triggered “rage” in the southwest Sydney community.
Keneally will now be parachuted in from her home in northern Sydney to become the candidate to represent the multicultural suburb.
“They [the community] are furious in fact. The public commentary about this clearly shows their rage,” Le told ABC radio on Tuesday. “That they feel like they don’t have a say in who gets to represent them and who is the person that speaks up for the struggles that they face and we face every day.”
Le expressed disappointment over losing the opportunity to represent Fowler, an electorate with 15 percent of people being of Vietnamese origin.
“I grew up, I live in this area, and I fight for this area every day in my life as a community worker, as an advocate, an organiser, and a lawyer,” she said. “I think that the issue is beyond me, and I think it’s much more than just the sour debacle that we have now.”
The decision to replace Le with Keneally drew criticism within Labor as well.
“Diversity, 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,” Labor MP Anne Aly, the first Muslim woman elected to the Australian Parliament, told ABC on Sept.11.
Charishma Kaliyanda, the Labor member on Liverpool Council, published an opinion article in The Sydney Morning Herald on Monday titled, “All respect to Kristina Keneally, but my Labor Party is wrong to impose her on western Sydney.”
Retiring Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon described the switch as a shame.
“I always prefer the selection of local community candidates but you can understand why the party is seeking to retain someone like Kristina Keneally,” he said. “It is a shame that she couldn’t be deployed to a marginal government-held seat which we need to win government.”
“The real issue is, a very good local candidate with strong local support including the support of the outgoing local member is going to miss out.”
Keneally hit back at the media coverage of other Labor MPs questioning diversity over the weekend.
“I’ll stand by our commitment to multiculturalism up against our Liberal opponents any day of the week,” she said.
“With a leader with a name like Albanese, you can be sure that a commitment to multicultural Australia sits at the heart of his government.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Tuesday told Le to “hang in there,” confirming that Labor would be committed to cultural representation.
“The Labor Party has done an enormous amount for diversity … Labor is the party of multiculturalism,” Albanese said.
“But Tu Le, I think, will have an outstanding future … I certainly hope she hangs in there and that she will have a bright future.”