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Source: The Conversation (Au and NZ) – By Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

For most voters, the cost of living is their major current concern. Rising interest rates and high prices for power, groceries and other necessities are hurting in particular lower and middle income people.

Nowhere is this more the case than in Sydney’s western suburbs.

Independent Dai Le, who holds the seat of Fowler in Sydney’s west, managed to pull off the unthinkable at last year’s federal election. Le, who financed her campaign with a very modest budget, defeated Labor’s Kristina Keneally, who was attempting to move from the Senate to the lower house.

Fowler has traditionally been Labor heartland. Le is the first non-Labor MP to represent the area, one of Australia’s most multicultural electorates.

In this podcast, Le canvasses the challenges her constituents are facing with the cost of living crisis and the aftermath of the curfew during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

Le has seen an uptake in her constituents reaching out to her for help.

“Concerns have heightened in terms of the cost of living, interest rate rises, housing affordability, grocery prices, petrol, travelling. Obviously where we are in western Sydney, people travel a lot. We use the cars a lot. It has been a real challenge for the community.”

One issue people haven’t been talking about is the Voice to Parliament.
“My community has not raised the issue with me, has not come to me, has not emailed me about any of the issues we’ve heard around the Voice.

Dai Le does not have a public stand on the Voice.

Culturally, Fowler is highly diverse. Le herself is Vietnamese, moving to Australia with her mother after fleeing the war. She says the community lives “very harmoniously together”, is “very cohesive”. “Of course, you have to encourage that cohesion because we are so different. There are so many different cultures in that one city.”

“I love this line, ‘we are one, but we are many’.”

In her maiden speech, she slammed the curfew placed on Western Sydney during the 2021 lockdown, likening the laws to a “communist dictatorship”.

“In one case, a young man got COVID and was so scared because of what he read in the media. […] He was too scared to get out of his bedroom because he didn’t want to kill his family. He thought what he’s got will kill his family.

“He felt so guilty he had this virus that he refused to eat and refused to drink. I knew they escaped the Khmer, the Pol Pot regime, and they were so scared about the police coming to the house because he’s got COVID.

“This triggered a community that had fled tyrannical and communist regimes. So that’s why I liken it. I remember hearing helicopters hovering around midnight and I was anxious, I remember telling my husband: ‘I’m not in Vietnam. Why am I feeling like this?’

“I then told myself, don’t be silly. You’re in Australia. We’re here. We are safe. This is just the police helicopters.”

In a week dominated by discussion of issues of sexual assault and harassment, there are new fears women may be dissuaded from coming forward with complaints.

Le says: “My message to them is that while this whole public political thing is happening, they should still have the courage to reach out to the right avenue when it happens to them and not lose faith.”

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

ref. Politics with Michelle Grattan: Community Independent Dai Le on what voters are saying –