This is the speech I delivered, as a guest speaker, at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) event for Indian community at Parravilla, Parramatta on Monday, 24th November, 2014. —————————————————————————————————–
Thank you for the kind words.
Prof Peter Shergold, Chancellor of University of Western Sydney, dignitaries, ladies and gentlemen,
Namaste and good evening,
I am grateful and feel privileged to have this opportunity to speak to you tonight.
SO WHERE ARE WE – AS A COMMUNITY- TODAY, AND WHERE DO WE NEED TO BE TOMORROW?
There are about 500,000 people of Indian heritage in Australia and more than 100,000 of them live in New South Wales. Most of the migrants from India have arrived in the last 10 years and India has been the top source of migrants to Australia over the last few years. Most people have come to this country as skilled migrants. Obviously, skilled migrants contribute to the Australian economy significantly. Our people not only take part in the service industry and public services, many of them are also into businesses, particularly small businesses, thus creating jobs. Indian migrants give significant importance for education of their children. It is not uncommon that they work hard, sometimes long hours and even two jobs, to make enough money so that they are able to send their children to private schools. Indian migrants are generally law-abiding people and their focus is significantly on the families and family values. Even after they become Australian Citizens, they continue to remain in touch with their extended families back home in India. This is something which has a great advantage to India. The inward remittance of 70 billion US dollars to India by overseas Indians in the years 2013-14 shows how valuable this is for India. To put this in perspective, the bilateral trade between Australia and India is only $15 billion Australian dollars and the bilateral trade between India and China is $60 billion US dollars, 2/3rd of which in each case is in favour of the other party. With the new Government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi taking office in May 2014, it is likely that investment policies will be streamlined. This is expected to accelerate investment in India not only from businesses from all over the world but also from Indians who are living overseas. Overseas Indians have great attachment with India. This would be strengthened, particularly for second and subsequent generations, and may even increase investment from them, if India were to see merits in granting dual citizenship to overseas Indians, just like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and most developed and democratic nations grant this to their citizens.
Focusing on New South Wales, most Indian Australians are in Sydney, especially Western Sydney. There are constituencies where Indians constitute more than 15% of voters, thus able to influence outcomes of elections. To give an example, my surname “Singh” is the most common surname in Blacktown. Indian Australians have significant presence in trades like medicine, law, banking, accounting, IT, food and catering, migration services and small to medium consumer businesses. They are creating jobs for quite a number of people as you would expect from the small business sector in any part of the economy. Many of us have good names in the professional arena. Some of us have started to make a mark in charity related work. Admirably, there are some who have become involved in helping the homeless with food and clothing. This is all laudable, but I know we can do more.
Some of us are fortunate enough to have our elderly parents moving to Australia. But with a passage of time, many of them feel lonely because there are not many people with whom they can socialize with when their family is away due to the usual commitments like work or education. Many of them have an element of isolation and depression. We do have many groups catering to them, but this definitely needs some more thinking, more work and co-ordination. We also need to think about culturally appropriate nursing homes and other care facilities, where our elderly people can be placed or cared for, when it becomes necessary. In the twilight years of their life it would be important that our elders are provided with solutions around language barriers and dietary requirements which they have been accustomed to.
Like any other migrant group, which comes to these shores with good education, our people do get jobs without much difficulty. There are definitely some who struggle to find jobs which are commensurate with their training and experience. Lack of local experience is often quoted when they are declined employment. This is one area where incentives to employers as a government policy could be worth lobbying for. Even though there are Government services which try and aid employment, there is a need for some thought from the community to guide our newer migrants helping them to settle into life and employment. Mentoring of newer migrants, when necessary, will be very helpful.
There are hundreds of political parties in India which have their support base mostly in a particular geographical part of India. This is reflected here too. While there are a few pan-Indian based community associations, a lot more associations in our community are based on language or region of India. It is not necessarily a bad thing because the basic purpose of community organisations is comradery and friendship among people who relate to that particular set of criteria. Indians love to have community associations, replicating the experience in India. There is often a fierce competition among associations which, at times, is irrational and illogical. They end up duplicating or even triplicating the same activity to satisfy their ego and “Me too” syndrome. There is a need for some consolidation and understanding among community associations particularly on matters of common community goals. These goals could be mentoring of new migrants for employment and settlement, health education on important health matters and lobbying the political leadership in favour of community interests. It would be productive for community associations to become more accepting of their counterparts and working with one another towards common goals. A dialogue must start and some key Indian media must take the initiative for this job. It is imperative that we put our egos behind and recognise the good qualities of our people. Mirroring what happens in India, many community leaders continue to hold their positions for 10, 20 or even 25 years which stifles the growth of new ideas and perpetuate ego-based unnecessary competition. We need young Indians to be active and we should encourage them to take leadership roles within the associations. Taking a cue from Australian politics, we need to start preparing the next set of leaders in our community. What is the point of holding a position with nothing to show as a result apart from some pictures on Facebook? Triviality such as taking pictures with leaders cannot be the sole focus of our community leaders.
It is vital to have leaders who understand their responsibilities towards the community and are effective communicators. A lot more could be done if the direction we as a community take is relevant and productive. Being an optimist, I envision a community where we would engage in meaningful dialogue among ourselves so that we are able to share problems and develop solutions. Only then will we be able to serve for the benefit of our community. For example, an Indian cultural center that is actually accessible. Or addressing the concerning fact that fewer women of Indian heritage use mammogram screening compared to the screening rates in the general Australian population.
In regards to our political participation, I know Subcontinent Friends of Labor is an active group of Labor party members and supporters. Similarly, Liberal Friends of India has been quite energetic in creating a network of Liberal party supporters. But more can be done. I believe that more and more of us should join the political process at various levels if we are ever going to gain greater political representation in Parliament.
Except for Senator Lisa Singh, a representative of Tasmania in the Federal Senate there is no other person from an Indian heritage who is a member of a State or Federal Parliament. There are, however, several councilors and a few Deputy Mayors too, but, to the best of my knowledge, there is no person from the Indian-Australian community who is a Mayor in this country. When we compare this with other ethnic backgrounds particularly Lebanese and Chinese, the contrast is quite stark. It is a common point of discussion among us in moments of reflection. It is clear that division in our community, based on ego and some other factors has created a situation preventing us from having a significant political presence, which is commensurate with our numbers.
So what is the solution? Do we vote for every Indian who contests in an election? I have no doubt that a mature community will base its decision on the ability and capacity of candidates instead of their race or religion. We want the best MPs to represent us in Parliament and factors like race and religion should not be given undue importance. We should encourage Indians to join political parties and participate in the processes including pre-selections. I don’t believe it is a good idea to form a political party based on ethnicity, or an association based on caste.
Australia-based Government of India officials’ interactions with the community are, at times, less than satisfactory either because of their services, which may not meet our expectations or because they have meddled in community politics. This is counterproductive and needs to change. GOI officials need to understand, and accept, that they are public servants and are here to be of assistance to NRIs/PIOs, in addition to fulfilling their responsibilities, given to them by GOI. It is of mutual interest and benefit to have a constructive and supportive relationship between GOI agencies and the diaspora.
Our media is active, vibrant and crowded, which is not too dissimilar to community associations. They do, and can play, a very vital role by using their reach and clout for bridging divisions in the community, supporting good leadership and good work, and advocating for key community goals. They must stay away from partisan agenda, which, sadly, is the case with a few of them.
So, ladies and gentlemen, Indian Australians are indeed a great community which is highly qualified and politically aware. Despite the size of our community we have not achieved satisfactory success in political representation, largely because of our own deficiencies. This will, and can change if we refocus our energies and vision. We can do this refocusing if we start recognizing the good qualities and work of our people giving them that extra bit of support. We need to start networking and coordinating with the plethora of community groups for our common goals. We need to control our envy, “Tall Poppy Syndrome” or “Crab” mentality, if we ever want to take our community to its deserved heights. I believe that it is doable as we are smart and pragmatic people. Nothing is impossible and there is nothing which we cannot achieve if we put our hearts together as a community. We must be united for and by our common goals for the community.
Thank you very much for your attention.