By ASHLEIGH BAGSHAW
Members of South Australia’s minority communities have looked to Upper House member Jing Lee to represent their interests and are likely to re-elect her on Saturday.
Ms Lee, who became the first person of Malaysian-Chinese descent to be elected in South Australian Parliament, has carved out a successful career in the Legislative Council.
With a strong business background, Ms Lee has achieved considerable success in her role as Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, Trade and Investment and Small Business.
Her greatest achievement is arguably her role as an advocate for marginalised communities.
President of the Japan Australia Friendship Association, Mike Dunphy said, “Jing Lee is somebody that women from different ethnic backgrounds can see and aspire to be, and who encourages others to strive to achieve their own goals.”
Ms Lee said her background as a migrant has been the driving inspiration behind her desire to speak up for others.
She migrated to Australia in 1979, a time when migrants of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds faced great adversity.
“The White Australia policy only ended in 1975, so it was quite tough for migrants who came from a non-English speaking background to be in Australia back then,” Ms Lee said.
Growing up around other families from culturally diverse backgrounds inspired her to become involved in the Asian community from a young age when she began volunteering at community events.
“My journey into politics actually came from my interest in community work and my interest in serving people.”
The self-described “late-comer” to politics admits she was not originally interested in a career in parliament.
“I was volunteering as MC at an event where a politician happened to be in the audience, and afterwards he tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would be interested in running for parliament.”
“I wasn’t sure at first because I knew I would be an outsider coming into a political party from no background at all,” she said.
Ms Lee eventually agreed and now works to provide a voice for those who may otherwise be excluded from the political system.
“Every member of our community should have equal access and be treated with the same level of priority.”
“That is the basis of what a good government should do: deliver that access for all,” she said.
Ms Lee’s efforts to promote greater access to the South Australian Parliament for multicultural communities has attracted much admiration.
Project Coordinator for the Overseas Chinese Association, Ms Fong Ung, said differences in language and culture needed to be negotiated carefully.
“When it comes to communities of diverse ethnic backgrounds, there is a real language and cultural barrier between us and parliament,” she said.
“Jing Lee not only understands us, but she also acknowledges us and the issues we face as a community.”
Vice President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia (South Australian Chapter), Tram Vu, said having politicians from culturally diverse backgrounds also helps to create a more open conversation about the needs of minority communities.
“The presence of politicians from non-English backgrounds is proof that multicultural policy is truly a champion of this state,” Ms Vu said.
“We hope this presence will allow communities such as ours to have more consultation and open dialogue with politicians to properly represent our views.”
Despite all that has been achieved, Ms Lee said there was still progress to be made to promote greater diversity in the Australian political system.
“Diversity in parliament needs to be expanded, not only just in multiculturalism, but also to address gender imbalance, to incorporate representatives from a range of career backgrounds, in so many other areas,” Ms Lee said.
“It doesn’t matter where people come from, what religion or background they have, or what language they speak.”
“At the end of the day, we all just want to have a happy, healthy life.”
Image Source: ABC