Senator Kristina Keneally, a former Premier of NSW is set to succeed much loved retiring MP Chris Hayes for the South Western Sydney’s federal seat of Fowler that includes multicultural suburbs of Cabramatta and Liverpool.

In an exclusive interview with AMUST on Thursday 23 September, she talks about the controversy over her endorsement by the Labor Party at the expense of local Vietnamese-Australian lawyer Tu Le, representing Fowler at a higher level in government, her engagement with multicultural community and her passion in fighting Right Wing Extremism.

In a passionate facebook post, Ms Tu Lee said, “The local community has not had a say in who represents us for far too long. Once again, we feel unrepresented and unheard. The people of Fowler deserve to be represented and heard. We deserve someone who truly understands the local area.”

During the interview Senator Keneally frankly spoke on why she would be able to give Fowler what it desperately needs, experienced influence over diverse representation.

“Fowler has been left behind by Liberal state and federal governments, particularly during the pandemic, Fowler had never had a minister or shadow minister represent them,” she said.

Senator Keneally is currently the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. She previously served as Premier of New South Wales from 2009 to 2011, the first woman to hold the position.

Questioned on diverse representation in the federal parliament, Keneally’s compared the track record of Labor and the Liberals as follows:

“I would reflect on the parliament in which I sit, which includes Penny Wong, Anthony Albanese, Ed Husic, Anne Aly, Michelle Rowland, Mike Freelander – we have a strong and good record on bringing diverse voices into the parliament. Can we do more? Yes. Should we do more? Absolutely. On the other side of the chamber, their record is much poorer. I would stack our efforts on ensuring that we have diverse representation in terms of gender, in terms of  multiculturalism and in terms of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, up against the Liberals, any day of the week.”

Keneally wants to bring “Fowler into the heart of the government” as it deserves to have a voice at the most senior level of government.

“I seek to be that voice,” remarked Keneally confidently.

The former Premier of NSW spoke about how the community of Fowler is quite well known to her,

“Fowler is an Incredibly diverse community with the strength of the Vietnamese, Assyrian, Chinese, Muslim and Indian community. Historical groups of Italians and eastern Europeans: Croatian, Serbian migration means that we have a really diverse and amazing part of Sydney,” she said.

The veteran MP for Fowler, Chris Hayes, although initially advocated for Tu Le to replace him, has now backed Keneally in a bid for unity in the ALP.

In a statement on Monday 20 September, addressing his constituents, he said:

 “I understand your concerns and that’s why I gave my support to someone who I thought was best suited to represent the diverse nature of our community. 

While the outcome is not what I had hoped for, I believe the most important thing for the people of Fowler is to have a Labor Government at the next election, and I am sure Kristina Keneally will play a significant role in securing that objective. 

Once again, thank you for contacting me and as I am retiring, please know that it has been my great honour to have represented this vibrant multicultural community in the Federal Parliament.” 

The highly popular MP amongst his multicultural electorate was admired for his stand on human rights violation in the home countries of many of his constituents including Palestinians, Rohingyas, Vietnamese, Cambodians and Uyighurs.

Chris Hayes conducted regular ‘Fowler Human Rights Forums’ listening to concerns of human rights violations in the home countries of his constituents.

Keneally shared fond words of her predecessor and aims to build on from his great work:

“Chris Hayes is well known for his decency and compassion and strong representation of the people of Fowler. He’s well known for advocacy for human rights in Australia and around the world. I pay tribute to Chris and I pledge that if elected I would seek to serve with the same passion and decency he has shown.” she said.

With an understanding of the local area of Fowler, Keneally and her husband are planning to move and establish roots in the area.

“We’re looking for a place to live in Fowler, we need to move as soon as possible – that’s shaping the decision that we’re making. My children are adults, It won’t be too disruptive. In seeking the election, my husband and I made a clear decision to move to Fowler.” she said.

She further added, “Fowler has been left behind by Liberal state and Federal governments, particularly during the pandemic, Fowler had never had a minister or Shadow minister represent them. Fowler deserves to have a voice at the most senior level of government and I seek to be that voice. I would like to bring Fowler into the heart of the government.

Keneally is well acquainted with AMUST and the Muslim community in the local area of Fowler. She was the Chief Guest at Australia’s first, the longest running and the largest Eid festival, the Multicultural Eid Festival & Fair MEFF during her term as Premier of NSW.

“What stood out to me was the inclusive sense of the celebration. There were, I remember, the stalls, an amazing array of food from all over the globe, the opportunity to browse through clothing, jewellery, showbags. It was a quintessential Australian event celebrating the Muslim community but doing it generously with the wider community. I was proud to be the leader of a state that showed that generosity and welcomed people from all over the globe and faiths where people felt the confidence to share themselves with fellow Australians,” she recalled.

AMUST wanted to dig deeper into the Senators’ stance on Right Wing Extremism (RWE) and what does she plan to do in order to keep the Australian community safe.

“A lot has changed in 20 years, and I am pleased to see that there is a much better appreciation for the role and the contribution of Muslims in Australia. However,I am concerned by the rise of right wing extremism, a form of hatred and division that in fact threatens the very strength of our multicultural society. RWE rejects the very thing that makes Australia so strong, that we are a multicultural and a multi faith society. They target Muslims, women, migrants, the Jewish community and others – this is another growing challenge for Australia and one where it calls on us again to come together and reject that form of racism, hatred and division,” she said.

With a precedence of taking action towards Right Wing Extremism (RWE), Keneally is well aware of the serious nature of the issue.

“Last year, at my instigation, Labor held an inquiry into RWE. I am concerned that in the face of a new terrorist threat, we do not have the right laws and tools to prevent radicalisation and to keep Australians safe from RWE. That inquiry was accepted by the government and is currently underway. I’m incredibly pleased that our national security agency has participated so completely in providing recommendations and proposed new policies,” she said.

Keneally shared her three point plan in tackling RWE to protect the lives and strength of a multicultural nation.

“In particular, we, as a country need to focus on three things when it comes to RWE: 1. Proscribing RWE groups, as  as terrorist organisations, as is done in Canada and the United Kingdom, 2. We should be doing more to disrupt radicalisation before it occurs and that involves working with the broader Australian community and social media platforms. Much of the propaganda is shared online particularly during pandemic, and there are things we can do to disrupt and remove abhorrent content. Thirdly we need a new anti racism campaign in Australia, we haven’t had one since the Gillard government in 2012 – if we are to uphold and maintain multicultural communities we have to reinforce the value of multiculturalism in every generation,” she said.

As a person of faith, Keneally shared her reflection on the role faith plays in her political activities:

“Before I ran for parliament in 2003, I was partaking in a doctorate in theology, after completing a Masters in theology.” This impacted KK in understanding the role of faith of the citizens she represents. “Early on in state parliament, one of my first engagements was in an ecumenical meeting between the Muslim and Christian communities,i coming together as one Australian community to better understand one another and to build stronger community cohesion. That was quite formative for me as a person of faith. I’ve appreciated that different faith communities come together, they have far more in common than what divides. From our strengths, we can learn from one another. As a new politician 20 years ago, I gained an insight into how that benefits the whole community, not only faith communities in a political sense, not a party sense – the community came to work together to get things done. In the aftermath of September 11, I worked amongst the East lakes muslim community, it was a real lesson on the importance of looking after and supporting one another and that begins with  better understanding one another.”

“My contention – human beings are spiritual beings, such as the Aboriginal community. We all have a spiritual dimension, and we bring that to our political activity – it’s part of your worldview. How you understand, and your spiritual self, does shape how you engage with the world, conversations in the public square, it’s important to understand that aspect of one another instead of ‘that person is a conservative so they believe in this or that’. It’s important to understand what motivates people, how they interpret the world, not just their political and economic views but their spiritual sense of themselves and connection to the world, It’s fundamental to build a cohesive successful multicultural community. “

When asked,  what are three things she is grateful for, Keneally said:

“I’m grateful for my family, they are the foundation of my life and my greatest accomplishment are my children. I am grateful for my parents who instilled in me a strong sense of faith and social justice and taught me that hard work pays off and never let me think that because I was a girl that anything was off limits. It was their view that their daughter could contribute to the world just as much as their sons. I’m grateful to live in Australia – its not the country of my birth, but it is my home and it is a most amazing, generous, successful country and what i love about Australia – when people come here, they are not judged by where they were born and came from, but instead they are welcomed for who they are and what they contribute.”