CHRIS HAYES BACK IN OFFICE | South-West is the 'most successful example of multiculturalism'

He just won Fowler, again. "I see the greatest threat to social cohesion across the South-West would be to give a platform to extremists. I believe we are the most successful example of multiculturalism. Freedom of speech does not, and should not, equate to a freedom to spread intolerance and division in our community. By and large, I think the people of our region celebrate our diversity and respect our differences, as we look to the good in our people."

So, where to now? "I'll continue my focus on people who live with disabilities and work towards ensuring that Badgerys Creek airport jobs primarily flow to the South-West."

At last month's federal election, Labor's Chris Hayes was returned with another landslide win, getting 63.99 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote to retain Fowler. It was against the national trend that saw the Liberals narrowly returned with a two-party-preferred vote of 51.47 per cent. Across the country it was neck-and-neck; not so in Fowler. This definitive win returned Hayes for his 14th year in office. Clearly, he's doing something right.

INTERVIEW

Congratulations on another very convincing win. Politics is littered with men and women who'd give anything for just four years. This is your 14th. How do you not burn out? What keeps you going?

The community I have the honour to represent has been very kind to me. While I'm very proud of our community, I know things can be better in our area. We're a very colourful and vibrant community but not a rich one and we're over-represented with families that live with disabilities. People here don't ask for much, they simply want a fair go. The fact that so many people put their trust in me is the only motivation I need to be their voice in the Federal Parliament.

You retained office with another landslide win, despite 12,624 informal votes -- 2.7 per cent more than last time. Before the poll you spent some time explaining to people the importance of voting correctly so votes count. The increase in the informal vote must be disappointing, or frustrating?

Yes, it is disappointing. I worked very hard to address the informal vote and I concentrated my messaging mainly in the ethnic communities. But the fact remains that in the majority of informal votes, people only marked "1", just as they had done a couple of weeks ago in the state election. This confusion was obviously costly.

Politics can be cutthroat. How do you operate at peak levels when there's so much pressure to distract you and tie you up in knots to neutralise you?

I never really thought about that. I've always tried to work professionally and ethically and where mistakes occur, I take responsibility. This is hardly any different for most of the people I represent.

To stay in office for so long, clearly you've had some very important wins. Which one are you proudest of?

The one I often reflect on is achieving the finances to establish the early-learning autism centre because I know that families living with disabilities do it tough, so making any advances in this space always feels good.

Victories come hand in hand with disappointments. What losses and disappointments have personally hurt you the most? How do you pick yourself up and move on? What about when the Labor Party forced you out of Werriwa (which you held from 2005 to 2010) and into Fowler (which you've held ever since)?

Being forced out of Werriwa was a low point, but I've enjoyed not only working with, but learning from, the people of Fowler, which after all, is the most multicultural community in the nation.

Essentially, you're elected to represent all the people, regardless of whether they agree with you or not. Scott Morrison refused to be drawn on his personal Christian beliefs during the last election campaign (eg, by Leigh Sales on the ABC's 7.30). You've demonstrated it is possible to hold personal beliefs and values without them interfering with supporting the will of the people. Did you have to do any mental gymnastics when you promised to support the will of the majority when it came to same-sex marriage?

I've never hidden the fact that I'm a practising Catholic, after all, it's an essential part of who I am. I guess I will keep practising until I get it right. With regard to the same-sex marriage debate, no, you can read any of my speeches in this regard. While my electorate voted 60 per cent against marriage equality, the simple fact is that marriage cannot be viewed simply through the prism of one electorate or municipality.

Your unilateral unequivocal support for our multicultural community here in the South-West is, without question, immediately obvious to everyone, and encouraging, and something for which you're greatly respected across our whole region. We do have harmony here. And it's not to be taken lightly. What do you see as the greatest threats to social cohesion across the South-West? Given that the South-West is perhaps the most multicultural region in all of Australia, in your travels across the country how would you say the acceptance of diversity and promotion of understanding here in the South-West compares to the rest of Australia . . . ?

I see the greatest threat to social cohesion across the South-West would be to give a platform to extremists. I believe we are the most successful example of multiculturalism. Freedom of speech does not, and should not, equate to a freedom to spread intolerance and division in our community. By and large, I think the people of our region celebrate our diversity and respect our differences, as we look to the good in our people.

The Cambodian community here is very encouraged by your outspoken efforts for democracy in Cambodia, and other countries in our broader region. How effective can Australian MPs be as influencers for freedom among our neighbours? Local Cambodians here are waiting for the PM to take a definitive stand in the face of Hun Sen and his regime and alleged attempts to have influence in this country. Upon his departure for Sydney for ASEAN in March last year, Hun Sen said: "I would like to send a message -- do not burn my photo. If you burn my photo I will follow you home. I will follow you and beat you at home." Those threats against Australians were pretty unequivocal and yet Malcolm Turnbull was still happy to welcome Hun Sen to Australia. Local Cambodians would like the PM to refuse visas to high-ranking Hun Sen officials who allegedly come here to oversee their networks here, including to monitor and intimidate expat Cambodians. Because of your track record and outspokenness, they're looking to you, and other MPs, to lead the charge. How effective can you be?

I regularly speak on matters of human rights and human-rights violations wherever they occur. Given the makeup of my community, I think people expect me to be their voice on issues that are important to them and the ongoing issue of human rights is a major concern, whether that be in countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines or the Middle East. Obviously, I'm not in Government but I will continue to play my part in drawing attention to human-rights abuses, both in Parliament and in other forums.

The public sees a very small part of a politician's life. Usually hidden, are all the quiet conversations you have with constituents who come and ask you for help. Representing them, helping them, is part of your role yet rarely publicly acknowledged in the greater cut-and-thrust of politics. Do many constituents seek out your personal help? How available are you for this? How does someone make an appointment to see you? What sorts of things do people seek your help for? What are some of the things you've been able to help people with?

My staff and I are kept busy. One thing I've learnt is that people don't want a lecture about the Constitution or the difference between local, state and federal governments. When they come to my office, they simply want help. Our key function is helping people in need. Matters concerning Centrelink payments, immigration issues, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (or NDIS), child support, taxation, council-related issues, housing, aged care and veterans' affairs are just some of the issues that are dealt with on a regular basis.

Contact details from chrishayesmp.com/contact: chris.hayes.mp@aph.gov.au or level 2, 24-32 Hughes Street,Cabramatta or PO Box 205, Cabramatta, NSW 2166 or 9726 3988 or fax 9727 2240.

Also hidden from view, are all the quiet conversations you have with your wife, Bernadette, who, by default, shares the ups and downs of political life with you. We're all grateful for a partner who shares the load, right?

I'm very lucky that I married my high-school girlfriend 43 years ago. She's not only my rock, but my soulmate, and certainly a constant source of inspiration.

Another part of public life often taken for granted is the expectation that you'll be present at all sorts of functions and public meetings, often after hours. This inevitably puts a strain on you personally and your family. How do you deal with that? What proportion of local invitations are you able to accept?

I'm not sure about putting a strain on our relationship because with most functions, Bernadette comes with me. I think she's far more popular than me and people are disappointed when she's unable to attend.

Take us through an average day, when Parliament is not sitting.

I like to be in the swimming pool by 6am. After swimming a kilometre, I'm home for breakfast with Bernadette. I check the news clippings and head to the office, preferably on my Triumph motorcycle.

Without intruding, but speaking generally, how do you balance work and family? How do you minimise the cost to them of what you do for a living?

Not only in politics but throughout my work life I've always had a busy schedule, much of which would take me away from home. But I've always been conscious of ensuring a work/life balance.

Politicians and journalists are possibly the most maligned of all occupations. Yet the function of both is vital. Without elected politicians, democracy is dead. Without courageous independent journalism to hold politicians to account, democracy is dead. Your thoughts?

A free media is essential to any healthy democracy. Where the media is unreasonably constrained, this clearly would have impacts on the balance in any genuine democracy.

What specific things do you want to achieve in your new term of office?

I will continue my focus on prioritising work with people who live with disabilities but, more generally, work towards ensuring that the jobs generated from the Badgerys Creek airport primarily flow to residents of the South-West. This is essential if we are to grow our local economy.

  • Contact Chris Hayes: chrishayesmp.com or chris.hayes.mp@aph.gov.au or level 2, 24-32 Hughes Street,Cabramatta or PO Box 205, Cabramatta, NSW 2166 or 9726 3988 or fax 9727 2240.
This story CHRIS HAYES BACK IN OFFICE | South-West is the 'most successful example of multiculturalism' first appeared on Liverpool City Champion.

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