Tanu Kallivayalil talks to Ricardo Balancy, the Liberal Party candidate for Holt, on how he juggles his various interests from football to politics.
Ricardo Balancy has many passions. Football is probably the foremost, followed closely by politics. In recent times, politics has been taking centrestage.
Ricardo Balancy, the Liberal Party candidate for Holt, came to Australia a month before he turned 18. Nothing in Australia was like his native Mauritius – a vibrant, multicultural, tropical island. He had to learn new topics at school, a new way of thinking about life. He sums it up with one of his first encounters with an Australian.
I was walking down the school yard when someone asked me: “How’s it going, Ricardo?” Having learnt his English from Irish schoolmasters, his untrained ear caught only his name and ‘going’. He promptly replied that he was headed to the Milk Bar. He remembers how the other man laughed, winked and said ‘she’ll be right, mate!’.
And he was. He soon began to adapt to his new environment and finished year 12 and was in Uni within a couple of years. His passions, however, were soccer and politics.
“I got involved in a soccer club straightaway. It became a lot easier to integrate with the community and develop friendships and so on. Very early we saw that there was scope for more to be done in that environment, and I was named the public relations officer when I was 22 or so. The next year I became President. I was president for most of my early life till I was 32.”
Two things are obvious as soon as one meets Balancy. He likes his football and he is passionate about promoting his constituency. When I meet him at the Liberal Party headquarters in the city, he is drafting a press release about how visiting football club Liverpool has agreed to meet with a club for disabled children in his constituency. He is really excited about this new development for his constituency but puts it aside to speak to me.
I ask him about his electorate. “Holt is a very diverse community. A majority of the people are from overseas or have parents who were born overseas. They have a strong Indian and Filipino community. I have lived in Holt ever since I arrived in Australia in 1983 –almost 28 years.”
Although politics runs in his family, he never thought he could break into politics in Australia. “My uncles and father were very involved in politics. I always said to myself that I would like to follow in my godfather’s footsteps. He ended up being the Ambassador to the US and later a Representative to the UN as well. I wanted to go down that path.”
Balancy never thought he would have the opportunity to do this in Australia. “The plan was to go back to Mauritius and get into it and do it for free,” he says laughing.
He became the president of the soccer club in Endeavour Hills (and it merged with the Keysborough soccer club). “I was president for about five to six years. Liberal Tony Williams came and saw me and asked me if I would be willing to help him. I thought ‘why not?’, because after arriving in Australia, I had been exposed to a part of the Labour party that completely turned me off.”
He said he did not like what he saw in Victoria at the time. Australia was going through quite a turbulent time. The Australian economy was being liberalised, the Australian dollar was floated and financial deregulation was underway. Australia also cut off its last ties to the UK.
It was a time of great change. Balancy’s experience with the Labour government was very different at the grassroots level.
He recalls his first week at work as a new migrant. “You want to show your worth. You want to show that you work hard. I got a tap on the shoulder from the Union rep who told me to slow down because I was making the others look bad. And I said to myself: ‘Hang on. Something is wrong here. Why are they not asking the others to pick up?’ I started to question what their role was in maintaining the productivity and helping the organisation prosper while looking at the benefits of the employees. I kept working. I did not take notice. So when Tony Williams asked me to help with his campaign it really appealed to me,” he says.
He admits that the Liberal Party was not exactly an icon on multiculturalism at the time. “It was a very different Liberal Party at the time. I was one of the few faces of the minority community that was involved at the time. I am glad to say that I have seen the transformation of the Liberal Party in the past six to nine years. Since John Howard, there has been a transformation. It’s a multicultural party today. It’s a party that focuses on various ethnic communities and the values and contributions that they have made to the community.”
Balancy claims that there are around 20 candidates from different groups standing on the Liberal ticket. However, the question about the kind of seats they get are raised in certain circles on a regular basis. The candidates from the minority communities continue to get seats that require a wide swing in order for them to win.
Balancy’s answer to that is that it all comes down to building blocks.
“You do your work in your community, you get recognised. Then you become part of the political party and then you start getting engaged in the process. And if you prove yourself worthy, your time will come. As you get more and more experienced, you will find that things start working for you.”
It was soon after he joined Uni that he got his job with the ATO. He has continued to work there for the past 28 years and has always been careful to walk the tightrope of working for the government while running for office.
However, being the president of his soccer club really helped him hone the skills he now has as a politician.
“Planning, organising the volunteers and promoting that club. I think it’s a good foundation because you are in touch with your community. I was also coaching the juniors. It gives you an understanding of the issues facing the community. People talk to you. As a club, you have a responsibility to make sure the kids can stay engaged. It’s not just about putting a team out there. It’s about the community and making sure your community is growing with you. They need access to facilities so they can become productive members.”
In fact, it was under Balancy’s presidency that the club changed its constitution to allow everyone to be a member and not just Mauritians.
He feels that if you have the capabilities, you will eventually become a leader. “To me it starts with a simple thing called leadership. You know what they say about the cream rising to the top. If you are contributing to the community, in whatever capacity, and your community recognises your value and appreciates what you can do for them, it does not matter where you come from, they will promote you,” he says. “I come from a country that is very diverse so I could easily relate with every culture. Now, what I find is that kids growing up here are also growing up in such a multicultural background. They will have that variety in their relationships that will make them better people,” he adds.
Balancy feels that there are various things at play when we say that some communities are not being included. For instance, the issue of “ethnic clubs”. “We have many ethnic clubs, which I feel is wrong. Clubs should be open to anyone. I think we’ve gone past that stage where people needed an ethnic club to go to so they can speak their language and so on. It was good in the 70s. However, sporting organisations especially, should never be ethnic based,” he says, and adds that unfortunately, at the grassroots levels, the remnants of the ethnic-based organisation are still evident.
“What happens is that new kids turn up at these clubs wanting to play soccer and then you find that a huge majority belong to one community. This leads to some level of exclusion because you will have soccer coaches from these majority communities shouting out instructions in their own language and there will be a few that don’t understand what the coach is saying to the other players. They withdraw and then soon, they will be walking the streets or playing their playstations. Government has a role to play in making sure the clubs head in the right direction. At the end of the day, we hold the lease on the venues,” he says.
“At a cultural level, they can get together at ethnic clubs but sporting clubs cannot be like that.”
He feels that there is no need to put your lot behind the Liberal Party just because you are an immigrant. The emphasis, for him, is on engagement. “You need to get involved, participate. See which party strikes a chord with you in terms of your principles, your values. For me, it was the Liberal Party because it is a party that believes in individual freedoms, in the ability of the individuals to improve themselves and get ahead.”The Liberal Party has got very strong values in that sense of the individual freedom. That is why I align myself with the Liberal Party. I see a lot of people sitting on the sidelines and criticising the government. I say to them, if you want change, if you want to influence policies, get involved. The Liberal Party is very open in terms of how the policies are developed. We have the ability as members to be part of different policy forums and these are taken forward and all the members vote. It’s a very open forum and a very open party for new ideas.”
Today, Balancy is a proud grandfather, but he says that he feels the same sense of motivation he had when he was 20. “I’ve always been motivated about my work. I still have a twinkle in the eye that one has on the first day. When I left my work yesterday for the last day, I still have that. People ask me: Why Ricardo? Why are you so passionate? I think it’s the people. It’s the people I meet every day. It’s the people that I’ve grown old with in the last 28 years. It’s the new people coming through. The new blood. The new thinking. I’ve been able to keep that edge and that has kept me interested and engaged and helped me promote myself,” he says.
(Balancy has to resign from his employment with the Australian Public Service in order to stand for federal Parliament. This is due to take effect on 1 August 2013 (date might change depending on when the election is called).
“There is a safety net provision that provides me the right of return to my position should I not be successful (otherwise it would have been difficult to sacrifice a 28-year career to run for parliament). The system makes it equitable for those who have a career in the Public Service and who seek to serve their country in Parliament,” he says.
“My wife and children are very supportive of what I do,” he says adding that his daughter, Samantha, will probably follow in his footsteps when she feels the time is right. They are always out and about with him, playing an active part in his campaigns.
“I met my wife on 27 December 1985 at 7:30 pm. She had just arrived from Mauritius and we were told that there was this girl that had arrived from Mauritius and she wanted a lift to the dance. I proposed to her a month later. We’ve been together for 27 years. So our daughter was born a year later, Samatha, 26, and our son was born after 5 years. I now have a granddaughter. I feel really blessed because my grandmother is still alive and to have five generations in a family is absolutely fantastic. I hope to be able to see my great granddaughter too!”