Will Cardinia Shire become multicultural in 2024?

Recently announced candidates. Thuch Ajak, Cecilia Rabecca Mphande and Amirthalingram Dhileepan. (Stewart Chambers: 417033_07)

By Corey Everitt

Cardinia is increasingly becoming more and more multicultural and 2024 may be the year that factor is reflected in Cardinia Shire Council.

The Gazette understands there has never been a councillor in the shire who has been of non-European descent.

Where places like Dandenong sport many councillors who are first or second generation descendants from diverse backgrounds, Cardinia seems on the precipice of seeing a multicultural candidate emerge in Pakenham or Officer.

Candidates Cecilia Rabecca Mphande, Thuch Ajak and Amirthalingram Dhileepan are among the multicultural candidates running this year.

Cecilia was originally inspired by Cr Colin Ross who said how important the various emerging communities are.

“He said we rely on people from multicultural communities to know what is happening,” she said.

“I thought let me go for it. I would really be that link.”

Over 30 percent of people in Pakenham as of 2021 were born in a country other than Australia.

Officer is the most rapidly growing in multicultural communities. With 29.9 percent of residents reported being born overseas in the 2016 census, in 2021 the figure jumped to 37.7 percent.

Just under half of Officer said both of their parents were born overseas in 2021.

Those of South Asian descent are the fastest growing community, with the Indian and Sri Lankan communities making up 14 percent.

Despite the rapid rise in Cardinia’s urban development, Thuch himself sees his own community not utilising what is offered locally.

“Some of my community, the South Sudanese community, most of the events that happen they take to Dandenong,” he said.

“That’s where they get access to those centres, I want them to be done here.”

In Cecilia’s opinion, there is a general lack of adaptation to multicultural communities.

“The systems on a Federal, a State and local level were not designed for migrants,” she said.

“People want to participate, but they’re hesitant. It’s all about trust.”

A key part of trust is having someone that has the knowledge to break down barriers of culture and language.

For Dhileep, his work is a bridge to well over 10 percent of the population.

“I was born in Sri Lanka, I know how India, Sri Lanka and how all these Asian countries work, their mentality,” he said.

“I can talk to them their way, I go their way. A lot of people can’t speak English, they are from poor communities.”

It’s more than language, but a matter of confidence. Thuch formerly held a role as liaison officer for the South Sudanese community – it required more than assumed.

“When I used to work at the council, each time a person came in whether they were Middle Eastern or African, whenever they saw me they approached me,” he said.

“Even if my role doesn’t require me to connect with them, it’s because they see themselves in me.”

The communities can provide not only their own necessities but contribute their own array of experiences hailing from across the world.

Cecilia is from Malawi, she comes from a lineage of public service where her father served as Health Minister for the Government.

Dhileep is Tamil, a persecuted ethnicity in Sri Lanka. Dhileep never knew his mother who was killed by the military when he was very young.

Thuch was classified as a refugee at only five years old, living his childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp.

‘All of the South Sudanese community are refugees’, Thuch says and he has seen how their home in Melbourne has been turbulent and many times isolating.

He has even seen one local facility cancel an event due to fears of his own community.

“When you are looked at differently, that community is dislodged,” he said.

“It can restore that trust to them, that Cardinia could accept someone like me.

“The diversity of its citizens should be reflected in the council. Us sitting together at the table, discussing our issues together.”

All three candidates are running in the Pakenham and Officer wards of Toomuc, Henty and Officer. Last election these were the most contested wards.