Melbourne, September 29: A record number of Indian-origin candidates will contest local council elections next month in Victoria, home to Australia’s largest Indian population.
According to official figures, Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) received total nominations from 2,135 candidates for 637 councillor posts across 78 councils in the state. This includes over 50 Indian-origin candidates, some who have come out of the wood-works, some recontesting and many new hopefuls.
This Victorian council election will witness by far the largest representation by the Indian community.
Whyndam City council in Melbourne’s west, recorded the highest number of over 14 Indian-origin candidates as compared to other councils. Wyndham itself has 95 nominations this year, compared to 46 candidates in 2012.
Whyndam’s first Indian origin councillors, Gautam Gupta and Intaj Khan, who were elected in 2012, are recontesting.
It has emerged that Khan has at least eight candidates preferencing him in a bid to ensure his re-election.
Liberal backbencher Bernie Finn had earlier claimed in state parliament that Khan was financing a small army of dummy candidates for the council elections.
He had openly called for keeping “a very close eye” on Wyndham and in particular on Khan.
Khan, accused of several candidates linked to him, have nominated for the council elections, including Matt Riley, of ‘legalise cannabis’ fame.
Riley told the Age that he was “not really expecting to win” and was running with Cr Khan to lift his profile – in return for feeding votes to Khan.
Khan, however, unable to dispute common label, terms dummy candidates as “helping young friends” – a campaign that reportedly cost him $100,000 approx.
The Sunday Age in an investigative report revealed repeated failures by Khan to properly declare property and commercial interests, including large farmland masses and directorships in various companies, as required by a councillor, under the local government laws.
Khan, has reportedly amassed wealth from his controversial private training college and debatable large-scale property speculation within Wyndham City.
The plan for his Tarneit mansion is also garnering enough attention and criticism from locals who say that it would be a “monument to excess”, according to the Age.
Khan’s Western Institute of Technology has been criticised over mistreatment of workers employed on 457 visas and separately a highly critical report on the college’s teaching standards by The Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), the federal regulator.
“Khan, may not have all the magic touch”, says a senior Indian community observer, citing Khan’s unsuccessful bid to lead the Australia Indian Business Council (AIBC) with the matter even reaching the Supreme Court of Victoria.
No doubt, Khan, who is reportedly impatient in his ambitions, is eyeing the 2018 state elections as well, for which he would require to be pre-selected by members.
Upon ALP memberships hitting 500 from 120 within a very short time in the state seat of Lalor recently, many believe that the seats of Tarneit, Derrimut and Lalor will witness a heavy ‘preferencing’ saga in the next state elections.
As Labor’s State Secretary was cracking down on mass online recruitments from one email address, predominantly by people of Indian background, and probing branch stacking accusations, a Labor insider on the condition of anonymity speaking to Bharat Times, had called for the investigation to be directed within the city of Wyndham.
Other Wyndham councillor, Gupta is in running from Chaffey ward, working around local issues like hospitals and infrastructure for Indian community, including an Indian precinct in Wyndham.
For Pathankot-born Monica Raizada, it is her first time as a candidate from Harrison Ward of the City of Wyndham. She has reportedly been working in the area of domestic violence which prompted her to contest council elections.
One of the fastest emerging council boasting of more than 10 per cent of India origin residents, Wyndham’s – other nominees who will fight the elections include Satnam Singh, Kamal Ahmud, J S Aashat, Nirmal Singh, Dinesh Gourisetty, Himanshu Manocha, Sahil Gupta, Jagrutiben Dave, R J Singh and Rishi Prabhakar.
Nagaraj Nayak contesting from the River Gum Ward of the City of Casey, in south eastern region, has been working hard on community development plans and views for the River Gum Ward.
He believes that a councillor position will help to further that cause. Nayak, who has the advantage of having been endorsed by the Casey Residents and Ratepayers Association for River Gum Ward, is “passionate about improving community development initiatives”.
Another candidate for Casey council, banker Sid Banerjee said Indian community was the fastest growing community across the state and thus showed a higher representation.
Murugan Nagarajan contesting from the Redgum Ward of Greater Dandenong City council won 1.12 per cent of the vote as a 2012 candidate and has nominated again for 2016.
Another Redgum candidate is Gagandeep Singh, while another Gangandeep Singh, a Noble Park resident is contesting from Lightwood Ward.
Of 39 candidates hoping to represent Greater Dandenong council, Suresh Shanmugam and environment campaigner Geraldine Gonsalvez of AIII fame, are contesting from Silverleaf Ward.
Moti Visa, candidate for Koonung ward is the first candidate of Indian Origin to contest in the Manningham council. Visa has been a resident of the area since 1990.
Indian-origin candidates from Melton council are Deepika Singla, Dilpreet Singh, Gary Verma and Meen Solanki.
The ‘Desi’ flavour is permeating further with three others in the fray in Melbourne’s Whittlesea.
Lakhwinder Singh Dhillon, Gurinder Kaur and Judgebir Singh are campaigning hard in Whittlesea, which has until now has never had an Indian-origin councillor.
Dhillon, who hails from Amritsar, is a taxi driver who famously returned $110,000 left behind in his cab. He was honoured by the Melbourne City Council for this act of honesty.
Kaur, also from Amritsar, works with the Australian government. A baptised Sikh, she does volunteer work through her membership with the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence and Flying Sikhs of Australia.
Singh, who is from the Abohar region in Punjab, is a businessman also interested in volunteer service – being associated with bodies such as the Oorja Foundation, Aurora Community Association and the Darebin Chargers Cricket Club.
Indians form the fifth largest chunk in Whittlesea’s population of 154,900 after the English, Macedonians, Italians and Greeks. Around 40,000 voters in Whittlesea will elect four councillors through the preference voting system by October 21.
Nandini Singhal is contesting from North Ward of City of Kingston. That makes it at least 4 female candidates of Indian origin.
Indian-born population has trippled since 2004 in Australia with Victoria recording second largest number of over 111,000 Indians and the Vic council elections 2016 will no doubt, set the radar for many more in the pipeline.
Ramakrishna VenuGopal with agencies
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