We need Indian Victorians devising policy: Daniel Andrews

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Opposition leader Daniel Andrews talks about his vision for growth in terms of business, education and employment

On 30 July, at an Indian Executive Club (IEC) event held at the Grande in Mulgrave, Daniel Andrews spoke to members and guests on his vision for growth, employment and SMEs in Victoria.

Mulgrave is a “special place” for Mr Andrews. He entered the State Parliament in 2002 as the Member for Mulgrave. He secured funding to rebuild local schools and helped establish the Mulgrave Community Centre, and he, his wife Catherine and three children now live in Mulgrave, an area that is home to one of the most multicultural electorates in Victoria.

Mr Andrews, who studied at Monash, joined the Labor Party in 1993, and seven years later became campaign director for the Victorian Labor Party, and was elected as its Assistant State Secretary.

He has been the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Gaming, and later, the Minister for Health in 2007.

With health, education and employment at the forefront of his vision for Victoria, he has been campaigning actively against the government’s cuts in these sectors.

Mr Andrews’ leadership has been tested by the recent tape controversy, where Planning minister Matthew Guy accused him of running a “protection racket” for people in his inner circle.

Still, with Victoria heading to polls in November, it will be interesting to see if Mr Andrews can retain his clout over the Party and lead Labor to victory.

Natasha Doraiswamy speaks with Mr Andrews. Excerpts from the conversation:

 

What will your position be on trade with India?

We’ve got to engage with the Indian diaspora in a much broader sense. And I think we need to have an Indian Victorian in not only devising that policy but implementing it as well. That has been lacking in recent times. The small and medium enterprise sector is one of the fastest growing in our economy and it’s a trend we’re seeing right across the world. We need to make sure we have a diversity of sectors, sub-sectors if you like; but also, types of businesses, whether they be large and small, regional and city. We will have more to say before the election about international relations and trade but the principles will be hard work, and making sure that the benefits of multiculturalism in our cultural diversity are reflected in our economic strategy as well.

We have so many people coming to Australia, living in Melbourne, who are part of our Victorian story; so we have to make use of that cultural understanding.

 

Little India is a heart-sensitive topic for many here in Melbourne because it is on the verge of closure. What’s your policy on the precinct in Dandenong?

Maybe things have gone too far in the precinct itself but there will be opportunities and we’ve got to find opportunities to create a cultural precinct just as we have done with Chinese, Greek, Italian, Vietnamese Victorians and all of their stories. While I’d love to make a policy announcement here on that issue… I do understand the problem, I’m happy to acknowledge that this has not been well handled over a long period of time. I do genuinely feel for those traders and that’s why we stood up for them to get some rent relief and to get some support and we have done that for the best part of four years now. But now we have to look to what the next chapter can be—I think the notion of a cultural precinct that says we are proud of the role that the Indian community has played in the development of our state and here is a showcase of all that it means. We talk about a big India in some respects but we have to make sure we’ve got a physical space and a precinct perhaps that can honour that.

 

From what we can see, the education sector isn’t struggling like in the past. It seems back on its feet once again. However, could you share with us your vision to ensure the sector remains vibrant?

We have to acknowledge that there were some issues. There were some issues around safety that were real. And that also led to some perception issues beyond that. I’m happy to acknowledge with the benefit of hindsight that it was not handled as well as it could have been. There was some damage with it, some might say, I don’t mean to be negative about it.

But it is in a stronger place today. There are a few other factors; we have to acknowledge that this is one of the most competitive markets you will ever find. It’s profitable in terms of shared understanding, the kind of mutuality that comes from strong relationships, knowledge transfer, strong ties between our community, our city and state and other parts of the world.

It’s also a profit centre as well because we are in high demand. In fact, we have the world’s best offering in vocational education and higher education and indeed, if we were to go just a short distance away from here, one of the biggest government schools in my local community just up in police road have the biggest international student program of any state school across Melbourne. And that is a great thing for that school, it adds to the diversity and it means that

they perhaps have a few more dollars to deal with in terms of providing for the whole of their student body.

One provider or the other, we’re competing with Sydney and Brisbane, and Sydney’s on a real tear; they’re doing very well in many different ways. They are really marching forward, beating us on growth, beating in terms of new jobs created, there’s a real sense of momentum in Sydney and New South Wales.

We don’t wish them ill but the government there ran on a platform three years ago of making New South Wales number one again. And they are working very hard to do that and I think we’ve been helping them by letting our state slip.

 

BOX:

‘Less controversial IFFM,’ says Daniel Andrews

Intro: Floor thrown open to Q&A session at Grande event

Small business owner Mrs Roshni Sharma raised a question regarding the involvement of local artists and talent in the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, and whether a “re-tendering” of the contract would be done by an elected Australian Labor Party government to ensure involvement of local artists, and broader consultation with the community.

Mr Andrews replied that they would like to see a less controversial IFFM than the ones that have been delivered under the current government. He said he would ensure that the voice of the community is heard. “We will listen to the community and make sure there is less controversy in IFFM rather than more controversy,” he said.

Mr Andrews accepted that there have been various concerns raised by the community regarding IFFM and based on them, ALP member Mr Jude Perera had raised the issue in the parliament as well. “Mr Perera would be the contact person for community to raise further concerns about the IFFM,” said Mr Andrews, and praised the efforts of Mr Perera for raising concerns regarding IFFM.

A representative from the Hindu Council of Australia (HCA) raised his concern regarding “Golden Circle’s Apple Juices” not declaring that beef and alcohol were part of its contents and manufacturing process.

Mr Andrews replied that he was aware of the issue and said it came under “Food Labeling” which is an area managed by the Federal Government in consultation with the State Governments. “I will be raising the issue of more stringent food labelling with the federal government,” he said.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Melbourne)

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