3ZZZ Podcast – Multiculturalism, Diversity in Politics and Media




Subjects: Labor Government, Multiculturalism, Community Radio

PETER KHALIL, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WILLS: My name is Peter Khalil. I’m the Federal Labor Member for Wills, which is an electorate in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, representing Brunswick and Coburg, Pascoe Vale, Glenroy, Fawkner, Hadfield, Oak Park, there’s a couple of other small suburbs, but it’s a very diverse electorate that I represent. It’s socioeconomically diverse, but it’s also ethnically diverse, with a lot of older migrant groups, but also new and emerging migrant groups. And it’s a wonderful part of Melbourne and it’s a wonderful place to represent. It’s a real privilege to be the representative in Canberra.

PERSEPHONE WAXMAN, HOST: I’m sure we’ll talk about that later because that’s something that’s really important to us here at 3ZZZ.

KHALIL: Of course.

WAXMAN: Yeah, that’s literally what we’re all about, ethnic diversity. But I think it’s important to talk about, the dust of the election has now probably somewhat settled. Everyone’s a bit more chilled out now, I guess. How was the election for you? How did it go?

KHALIL: We did well. We had a very small, modest swing towards us, which is a good result here in Wills. A small swing towards Labor, which was good given that there was a lot of swings. Here in Wills, it was a contest, really, between Labor and the Greens, first and second, so we had a good result in the sense that we had a little bit of a swing towards us. I think the campaign was five or six weeks, but really, you’re being tested based on your work for a couple of years as well. So, I think you know we worked really hard to help a lot of people. Served the community, you know, provide assistance. Didn’t matter whether someone came to you for a local issue, council, or state, or federal, we didn’t turn anyone away and we did our best to try and assist people and serve that community, even from opposition, you can do that. And I think that hard work is really important. And then I think also really having a genuine conviction around a number of policy issues which I worked on at the national level on refugee policy or on climate change – things that I’m very passionate about. So, I think that people made a judgment on that and gave me the opportunity to represent them for another three years.

WAXMAN: Speaking of the future, the next three years, maybe you won’t look that too far into the future, what does the rest of your 2022 look like?

KHALIL: Well, that’s a good question. You’re straight back into work, really. I think you don’t have much time for a victory lap in this because you have to work and represent people and that never stops. I think there’s also a big difference though, in that we’ve won government, so settling into that is a bit different as well, where we can actually deliver now on our commitments, the policies that we’ve announced, the commitments we’ve made for the community during the election campaign and a bit earlier. Now the work is about delivering those for the Community, whether it’s the solar community batteries for Brunswick and Coburg, whether it’s the $1,000,000 for the arts hub at Saxon St., whether it’s the $500,000 for the Faulkner Pool. These are things now we can just step in and put in place.

WAXMAN: Awesome. So, you did mention before, you’re the member for Wills. What is it about the electorate of Wills? You did kind of get at it before. What’s so special about the area for you?

KHALIL: Well, yeah, as I touched on it, I think it’s special because it’s almost like a microcosm of Australia. In many respects, it has every part of Australia, except probably the outer sort of regional remote areas that are in other parts of the country. But we have the inner-city suburbs, we have the sort of middle suburbs. We have the outer suburbs. We have a very diverse population both socioeconomically, but also with respect to culture and ethnicity. And so, it is kind of like what modern Australia really is and representing it. I obviously come from a migrant background, and my parents migrated from Egypt, or they escaped Egypt, really in the late 60s to come for a better life in Australia, to ensure that there was a secure and safe life for my sister and I. And that’s not a unique story. It’s one that I think that millions of Australians have experienced, people who’ve migrated to this country, come to this country for a better life, who’ve sacrificed their own lives to a certain extent or their careers to give to their children and the next generation. But also, they’ve made this country what it is. They’ve contributed in a way that’s made Australia a special place. Everyone talks about multiculturalism and how special it is to have a multicultural country.

In Australia, multiculturalism isn’t food and dance and costume and all that kind of thing. As nice as all that is, that’s not what I mean by multiculturalism. What I mean by multicultural diversity is the fact that the experiences, the culture, the language, the history that people bring to this country adds to the overall fabric of Australia. It makes us who we are, and I think the diversity is actually a strength of this country. It makes us a better place to be. Of course, there are people who want to divide us based on ethnicity and on difference, on gender, on whatever it might be, right? There’s all of that. That’s hateful. That’s divisive. Sometimes that’s easier and often it is easier for people to play those cards because fear works. It’s much, much harder to unite people about what they have in common and to see others as other human beings and people that we share our common humanity with. And that’s the special thing about multiculturalism as well. It’s about that diversity being a strength of who we are.

I’ve had a background in that policy space, so I’m very passionate about it. I think Australia has a future where we can really become even more special than we are in in many respects because of that migration story. But I think at the core of it, we have to address the issues with Indigenous Australia and reconciliation. This is why it’s so exciting that we’ve committed as a Federal Labor government to the Voice to Parliament, the Makarrata Commission, truth telling and treaty, and the Uluru Statement from the Heart. That commitment is at the core of it. We can’t ever really say that we are a genuinely multicultural and diverse country until we resolve that issue, because all the issues that we have kind of stem from that in some respects. So, it’s really, really important that we get this right over the next couple of years and I’m so excited, because we’ve got Malarndirri McCarthy, the Senator from the Territory, we’ve got Pat Dodson, we’ve got Linda Burney, we’ve got Jana Stewart, the new Senator from Victoria, our Indigenous MPs and senators and leaders are leading the way on implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

WAXMAN: So many amazing things.

KHALIL: Sorry, that was a long answer.

WAXMAN: No, no, I love everything you had to say. You did touch on something on how there are some people that like leading by hate, not by love, I guess. And as you’ve mentioned, the kind of reshuffling that government has gone through, I think has kind of brought in, hopefully a bit, people leading with love a little bit more from more diverse backgrounds. I guess the question is, why do you think it’s so important for people to be in Parliament that have actually experienced hardship, have actually experienced issues like having to, as your parents did, escape a country just to live properly. Why is it important to be led by people like that?

KHALIL: Resilience. I think that’s a big part of it. Like, I grew up in Australia in the 70s and 80s. It was quite difficult, and I learnt a degree of resilience because I faced racism and prejudice because of who I was. You know, people used to say to me, go back to where you came from. Like, I’m here and I’m from Melbourne. Where am I supposed to go? So, experiencing that wasn’t good, but on the other side of it, it’s like you understand better. You bring a different perspective to public policy and public life, and I think, to answer your question, why should you have people of diverse backgrounds, all diverse backgrounds, socioeconomic, gender, ethnicity, all the different things that make us who we are? Why should you have that diversity in in public life? Because it makes for better decision making. People have different perspectives. They can bring their life experiences to those decisions. They actually can see things in different ways, and when they engage with others around public policy and policy development and ideas and so on, you actually get better results. This is proven, by the way, lots of studies that you see, whether it be in academia or the corporate sector and so on for a long time, Australia didn’t have or hasn’t had in our public life, particularly in politics, a very diverse set of people representing it. I was kind of unique. It was myself Anne Aly and Penny Wong. 4% of the federal parliament were people of colour, basically. People who were non-Anglo or non-Indigenous. And that’s a complete disparity from the general population, where about 22% or 23% of Australians identify as people of colour, people of a non-Anglo background, whether it’s African, Middle Eastern, Pacific Islander, Asian Australian and so on. There’s not that kind of cohort of people of that diverse background in our public life. And I think we were suffering from that.

The great news is that we, in this last election particularly, our Labor MPs that have been elected, are all from diverse backgrounds. I think 80%-90% of them are from diverse backgrounds, people of colour who can bring all these experiences and understanding of the world and the experiences they’ve had to public life and public policy making. I want to say one thing about that though and for the 3ZZZ listeners, this doesn’t mean that you have to be of an ethnic background to represent a particular ethnic group. That’s a slippery slope that I think we need to really be guarded against, because what I’m talking about is opening up opportunity for people of all different backgrounds, whether it be their ethnic background, their gender, their culture, their whatever it is. They can represent all types of people. It’s about the skills that they bring to the job, the commitment, the passion they bring to the job, the qualifications they have, their hard work, their dedication. I can represent Anglo-Australians just as well as an Anglo-Australian and I’m sure an Anglo-Australian can represent people of different backgrounds just as well. What I’m talking about is making sure we open up the opportunities that if people do want to get into that political space, they have the opportunity. In the past it’s been a barrier to a certain extent, and not only in politics, but also, you know, in the senior leadership positions. I don’t want people of diverse backgrounds just to make up the numbers, like tick a box. They have to be there in decision making roles. They have to be there actually making a contribution to public life because that’s where you get the better decision-making.

WAXMAN: Absolutely – fantastic answers from you. Love it. Thank you. I did have one last question to just talk about: you did bring out 3ZZZ which is great. Thank you for coming on the podcast. It’s been lovely to chat with you. Do you think having multicultural and ethnic stations such as 3ZZZ actually help make change on a level, like Parliament? Even that high up?

KHALIL: Well, the media plays a really important role, and what we call diverse media plays an even more important role within our democracy. And we’ve made commitments, I think it’s tens of millions of dollars to community radio, including 3ZZZ to keep you on the air. And because we value the contribution that’s made to public life. But your questions an interesting one because you’re saying is it the same as politics? I think it’s a complementary role. It holds to account our leaders because that’s one of the roles that media plays. But the diversity of 3ZZZ and I’m a bit biased, I used to work for SBS so I can see the importance of multilingual and multicultural broadcasting that actually teaches Australians about all of the different cultures around them and who we are and the world around us as well. It opens up our eyes to the diversity that exists and the value of that as well. And so 3ZZZ, like these other broadcasters, play a really important role in connecting with the communities that are here in Australia but also for others. I’m sure lots of people listen to the programs even if they don’t speak the language. There might be programs in English that are about other cultures and so on – because they learn from that. So 3ZZZ plays a really important role in that connecting to language, to history, to culture. And I think more broadly, the arts and this type of sector is the heart and soul of any society. It has to be supported. I think it should be supported by government and that’s why we’re doing it. The state has a role in supporting the arts sector and the media and public broadcasting, particularly community broadcasting because, sorry for this long answer, but the fact that we’re in a world in which there’s such fracturing of the media, where we talked a bit earlier about how sort of there are those, I wouldn’t call them political leaders, or politicians or others who are using hate and fear and anger and whipping up that in a way to actually get a short term political benefit. It’s polarising. And the way that social media works now, it’s very easy with the algorithms and all the rest of it to get people into little angry groups around things. So public broadcasting, community broadcasting, is so important because it provides a kind of a space, especially with news and current affairs, more objective, obviously – but with respect to explaining to people and touching people with culture and language and difference, so they’re not afraid of that difference. So, it plays a critical role, and I think that’s a complementary role to what we play. As political leaders, we have that responsibility as well. As political leaders, true leaders would go do the harder yards and try and unite people through hope and through understanding through what you talked about: love, compassion. It sounds strange to connect that to politics, but that’s what actually fundamentally is the essence of public service is because you’re giving to others and you’re serving others or you’re making that commitment to public life. So that is very complementary with community broadcasting and public broadcasting and the arts in general.