Unity through diversity

‘Putting myself forward’

In a multicultural society like Western Australia, cultural diversity in leadership roles is especially important – and nowhere moreso than in local government where ratepayers will go to the polls later this month.

City of Canning mayoral candidate Yaso Ponnuthurai said the elected members of the councils were connectors.

“As Sri Lankan born, I grew up in a socialism environment and it was all about how we can be responsible and give back to other people,” she said.

“We are only here for the community and not for anything else.”

Mrs Ponnuthurai had a clear vision of making Canning the second CBD. Photo: Elin Anuar.

The Tamilian mayoral candidate said she was an active advocate for the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community.

“Canning has a population of approximately 94,000 people and 40 per cent of them speak English as a second language,” Mrs Ponnuthurai said.

“Especially with a huge CALD community, it’s important to have a diverse mix in the council because we understand our cultural barriers better.

“Being one of them is much easier because I can understand their daily hurdles and take them on a better journey.

“I am going to put myself forward and stay connected with people because if I don’t, I won’t know what they want.”

Mrs Ponnuthurai was passionate about empowering people on different levels. Video: Elin Anuar.

Getting more voices

Murdoch University senior lecturer in Australian politics Dr Ian Cook said the community needs to take local government elections more seriously.

“For the most part, people are really not engaged at local government levels,” he said.

“I think local governments are really fundamental to people’s quality of life and we need to get awareness.”

Dr Cook said the cultural diversity in local councils was not as great as it should be.

“Local governments create opportunities of participation from a diverse range of groups of people because it is so close to home,” Dr Cook said.

“We need more households from non-Anglo backgrounds to get involved.”

According to Dr Cook, most migrant communities did not have a sense of place and locality.

“We’re not quite getting those voices but we know we could get those voices,” he said.

“This is an ideal start for them to make a difference in Australian politics.”

Cultural barriers

Western Australian Electoral Commission acting commissioner Chris Avent said the cultural diversity of the mayoral and councillor candidates varies across councils.

Mr Avent said every individual had different belief systems and experiences. Photo: Elin Anuar.

“Voter turnout rates have been relatively low, and I do think cultural barriers play a role in this,” he said.

Mr Avent said having a leader with whom the community had an affinity could become an encouragement to vote.

“It depends on people’s interests, experiences in life, and the system in their respective cultures,” he said.

“In some countries, people are highly suspicious of corrupted electoral processes and some cultures don’t believe in democracy.

“However, some Australian citizens who come from other parts of the world are quite passionate about running and voting in the local government elections because they finally have the right to do so.”

Serving the people

Victoria Park councillor candidate Jesvin Karimi said her religion taught her the concept of “Seva” which meant selfless service.

“Running for the local government elections is a part of my way of serving the community,” she said.

“The dynamic of the population in Victoria Park is changing because now we have a lot of Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, Thai and many more diverse cultural backgrounds.”

The Sikh-Punjabi Australian said Australia should become a melting pot.

“I think diversity acceptance is getting better but it’s a fight that we have to still keep fighting for,” Mrs Karimi said.

“It’s important for everyone to have an understanding of different cultures and look outside of yourself.

“I want everyone to look at a person for a person and not the colour of their skin or what religion they practise.

“I hope to see an end of personal prejudices and a more inclusive community in Vic Park in the future.”