Home Swim wears Vietnamese refugee Dai Le mourns, denounces Kristina Keneally and Covid blockages in his inaugural speech

Vietnamese refugee Dai Le mourns, denounces Kristina Keneally and Covid blockages in his inaugural speech

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The refugee who beat Kristina Keneally to a marginal seat choked on recalling how she nearly drowned fleeing Vietnam in her maiden speech in parliament.

Dai Le won Fowler’s seat in Sydney’s south-west on May 21 against the former premier of New South Wales who Labor tried to parachute from his wealthy island enclave 70km away.

Ms Le donned traditional Vietnamese attire – a cheongsam emblazoned with an Australian flag – on Monday as dozens of supporters cheered from the gallery of the House of Representatives.

During her speech, Ms Le compared West Sydney’s Covid closures last year to the tyrannical regime she fled as a child, and hit out at Ms Keneally.

Ms Le recounted how she escaped the fall of Saigon in April 1975, aged seven, on a rickety boat bound for Hong Kong with her mother and two younger sisters.

Her father, a lawyer working for the Americans, did not board the boat and she never saw him again.

“I remember running with my mother and two younger sisters, rushing to get on a boat and going through the screams and screams of women and children. I had no idea what was going on,” she said.

“All I remember is the screams, the panic, the chaos and a moment on the boat where I turned around to look at my homeland to try to figure out what was going on and I just saw a big black smoke in the distance.

“I remember when I thought we were going to die when a big storm hit our boat.”

Ms. Le’s voice cracked as she recalled that she clung to the boat for life with her sister as the boat swayed and her mother held my other sister tightly in her arms.

“I remember being soaked under the tarp as the ocean hit us and the rain poured down,” she said.

“I remember how my face nearly hit the ocean as our boat rocked so hard in the storm and I remember my mom warning me that I had to hold my sister and a plastic canister, just in case the boat overturns, until we can find each other.

“As I tried to look through the tarp, all I could hear was the storm and [I] was terrified of not surviving because none of us could swim.

New MP Dai Le donned traditional Vietnamese clothing printed with an Australian flag as dozens of supporters cheered her from the gallery of the House of Representatives

Ms Le posed for photos in her special traditional attire outside the parliament hall

Ms Le posed for photos in her special traditional attire outside the parliament hall

“My mother continued to pray, rosary in hand, as the boat continued to rock. The ocean was completely black, and all I could think about was that I was going to fall into this black abyss.

“I kept praying in my heart that if the boat rolled over, I would always hold on to my sister and I would always find my mother.

“The storm died down the next morning, but everyone was exhausted. I remember seeing bodies lying on the boat like corpses.

“I remember years in refugee camps, dreaming of being able to lie on a real bed. Have a real home and go to a good school.

Ms Le choked again, this time with joy and gratitude, as she recounted how Australians welcomed her family.

“I remember when we were accepted for resettlement as refugees in Australia, known to many in the refugee camps as the island with the best education system in the world and remembering that we came out of [Sydney Airport] the feeling of acceptance and gratitude,” she said.

“We were filled with hope as we looked towards the horizon of endless possibilities.

“Australia, you have welcomed my mother, my family with open arms. You gave us comfort, food and a warm bed to sleep in.

Ms. Le's voice cracked as she recalled that she clung to the boat for life with her sister as the boat swayed and her mother held my other sister tightly in her arms.

Ms. Le’s voice cracked as she recalled that she clung to the boat for life with her sister as the boat swayed and her mother held my other sister tightly in her arms.

Ms Le thanked Neil and Kylie Williamson, who helped her family settle in and were in the gallery for her speech, and a friend who introduced her to the Anzac biscuits and made her feel like she belonged.

His mother worked in house cleaning, starting with that of an Italian migrant who set up a shoe business.

But as grateful as Ms Le was for the way Australians supported her family, she had harsh words for the NSW Covid lockdown last year which was particularly severe in her area.

She compared the restrictions imposed on Western Sydney, which were controversially stronger and more heavily policed ​​than the rest of the city, to the Communist dictatorship her family fled.

‘We weren’t allowed to travel more than 5km from our homes, we were told to get travel permits, we were made to get tested every three days, we had helicopters flying around our area as well as mounted police and uniformed men knocking on people’s doors,” she said.

“Although the intention was good, we are a city made up of people who fled tyrannical regimes and war zones, like my own family and my own country of origin.

“Last time I looked, a government that deprives individuals of the freedom to choose how they want to live, work and raise their families was called a communist dictatorship – a political system from which my family and I have escaped.”

Ms Le, who entered local politics in a parking lot in Cabramatta when she was an ABC reporter, was elected as an independent in the Labor heartland after a backlash against Labor’s selection of Ms Keneally to run for the seat ahead of the local candidates.

Former New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally was parachuted into Fowler's ultra-secure Labor constituency in Sydney but saw a huge swing against her to hand Ms Le an unlikely triumph.

Former New South Wales Premier Kristina Keneally was parachuted into Fowler’s ultra-secure Labor constituency in Sydney but saw a huge swing against her to hand Ms Le an unlikely triumph.

The former senator was chosen by Labor HQ when she lived 70km away on the wealthy island of Scotland on the northern beaches, renting a house which she abandoned days after the election defeat.

Voters rejected her so much that the seat fell from a 28% Labor majority in 2019 to 5% in favor of Ms Le.

“We thought it was time for one of us with lived experience, who had grown up, worked and spent most of his life in this community to fight and stand up for us to represent us” , Ms. Le said in her speech.

“Especially over the past two years during the Covid and lockdown conversations started within a small team. Could we sit back and let our community be taken for granted again? »

“The people of Fowler wanted and needed a representative who came from their community and would never forget the personal challenges they face every day and walked in our shoes and lived what they lived.

“Not just at election time, but every day.”

Ms Le said this was necessary because her electorate had been “neglected and abandoned by the main parties” and despite their resilience “we are not a privileged people”.

She pointed out that Fowler had the third highest unemployment rate in Australia at almost 10%, three times the national average and a median income 20% lower.

Forty-two per cent of residents are tenants, compared to an average of 32.6 per cent in New South Wales.

Ms Le said Fowler was also one of Australia’s most multicultural constituencies, but there was not enough support for newcomers.

Ms Le is congratulated by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton after her maiden speech

Ms Le is congratulated by Opposition Leader Peter Dutton after her maiden speech

She encouraged the government to address skills shortages among those already in the country first, given the unemployment rate among her electorate.

“If we are to bring in more migrants, the government has a duty to ensure that there are immediate plans to build more housing, more public transport infrastructure, more local services for this expected increase” , she said.

“Our community has seen the settlement of nearly 10,000 refugees without additional places for hospitals, schools, waste disposal services, road maintenance…or employment opportunities.”

Ms Le said that if immigrants were resettled without the necessary services, they would be left “on their own in a foreign country … feeling marginalized and demonized”.

A huge crowd in the gallery gave him a standing ovation, including many ethnic Vietnamese in traditional dress, while chanting his name.

A long line of MPs, including Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, formed to congratulate her.