Laurie Ferguson (Federal MP for Werriwa) in Talk Sangbad
Hon. Laurie Ferguson
“One of my grandfather came here in 1921 and my other grandfather came here in 1913.”
“I made a commitment with the Bangladeshi people and I intend to visit Bangladesh next year.”
1. What is your electorate area?
Werriwa, is an aboriginal word meaning Lake George near Canberra and the reason it’s called Werriwa is, in the early 1900s when this electorate was created it went all the way from Ingleburn to Canberra. This was all the farming area and very few people lived there, so you had to get a large area to have enough population in the electorate. Now it stretches from Liverpool to Campbelltown along the railway line. There is not much of Campbelltown but small areas of Liverpool, also Minto, Macquarie Fields, Glenfield, Ingleburn and then some farming area. There are new suburbs, and the population is growing massively in this electorate. A lot of people have migrated to this area and basically get cheaper housing but have long travel times to work.
2. How many times have you been elected in this area?
Only twice, but I went into State Parliament in 1984 and I went into Federal Parliament in 1990. So I have been in parliament for 29 years.
3. How do you represent Bangladeshi community in the parliament house?
I don’t want to say that I particularly represent Bangladeshi but I want to say that I represent all other ethnic group; I have always been interested in the world, and other cultures, other religions, other nations from when I was very young. I have been in a great relationship with the Bangladeshi community for the last 15 to 20 years but it has been reinforced in last 4 years because of this electorate. I am the President of the Friendship Group and I tend to be very receptive to people from the community, when they come to see me, and make requests I try to attend all the functions. During the campaign we had a very huge involvement by the Bangladeshi community. What I do most days when I am not in parliament, I come to my office and I am very readily available to the Bangladeshi’s and anyone else.
4. Could you please tell us about the Friendship Group?
The Federal Parliament has a vast majority of nations that have Friendship Groups and that means Members of the Parliament, who are interested in that country can join the group. Some people may join because their grandmother came from there, others because people from a particular community are strong in their electorate, others may have had a trip there. I have to be honest your High Commissioner Lt General Chowdhury has been very active compared to lot of other ambassadors. I have had the opportunity of being in Federal Parliament for 20 years to see various ambassadors, consular generals, and your connection with this committee would be in the top 10.
5. Have you visited Bangladesh before?
No, I intend going later this year. We used to have a study touring allowance in parliament which has been abolished, I had 30k left and there was a rule that said I had to spend 18k before the parliament came back, or I would lose it, so I rushed to try and get to Bangladesh but I was advised by the High Commission that it was a stupid week to go because of EID (Islamic Religious Festival). No one will be around in Dhaka as all would be all back in their villages .I then had to make basically another quick decision; I went to Tonga and Samoa because there are a lot of Islanders in my electorate.
6. As you couldn’t make a visit this year, do you still intend to visit Bangladesh?
I intend to visit Bangladesh next year. I made a commitment with the Bangladeshi people in my electorate that I will be going to Bangladesh next year.
7. What Bangladeshi events have you attended this year?
Mostly I have been to sports presentation, various Pujas (Religious Festival of Hindus), EID events, various fairs, fundraising events for the young womens group called Probashi which is a group of young graduates from the high school, who all succeeded in their later life as professionals and they started to raise money for those women who had acid thrown on their face in Bangladesh and they come from Macquarie Fields High School, The event of Bangladeshi Environmental Group, Bangladeshi school events in Campbelltown and lot of other charitable and political functions I go to 30 or more Bangladeshi events a year.
8. You recently have attended the Australian Bangladeshi Business Council Inaugural Award function, how did you find that event?
It says that your community has come a long way in a short time. Some ethnic groups obviously are quite large because they have communities and they have prominence in different sectors of our economy but in a short time the Bangladeshis have grown in numbers. I thought how impressive to get that far. And I thought how good it was that the local thanked you for launching the night and you obviously have a very big advantage because the background of English and skills you have means you can fit in very well, organising this events. I think it was very impressive at this stage.
9. In your opinion what do you think about the difference between the Australian Bangladeshi Business Council Inaugural Award function and other Bangladeshi events that you normally attend?
You’re probably going to have the disproportion number of people who are higher skilled and more business oriented, that’s probably the nature of who is in ABBC. That’s the main difference I would see. This is very professionally run, the MCs did a very good job and in general I think it was successful, well conducted, and reflected a lot of areas the Bangladeshi are interested.
10. Is there anything that you would like to advice to the ABBC team?
Probably they should try and get some more nominees for next year event.
11. What are the major business challenges do you think this community might encounter in Australian business environment?
I believe this country is very transparent and there is lot of integrity in our public service you see areas of corruption and that’s very unfortunate. People come with different concepts like they will get help to get jobs, they will get help into university but they don’t understand in Australia you are unable to do that. I think one of the challenges Bangladeshi community face in the real world is, you will know the contexts are very important for getting jobs and employment, I guess for a few years there will be those kinds of impediments like most people are still hired in a way by whoever is working in the company, already suggesting people they know, for employment and that will be one of the challenges facing the community. Having those kind of connections in a way is not saying they are corrupt but connections with the business sector and to be sponsored to get in but I am not a businessman and I am not an expert on this but that’s the main thing I would think.
12. Do you have any advice for our community?
The onething that’s helping the Bangladeshi people in my analysis is the huge emphasize on education, when you see the next generation coming through compared to many other communities (there are others similar to yours like Vietnamese and Palestine’s) they will do much better without seeing other role models that went through schools from the older generation, like other communities have to bust through to universities to study law, medicine. Also, there is strong cultural presence, so it looks quite promising and a lot less challenging to me than other groups.
13. Coming back to your electorate area, what is your thought about the people living here and who are most supportive?
I have to be honest, we have got an extremely high vote from the Bangladeshi community and I don’t think any other ethnic group voted strongly for me as Bangladeshis. There’s some smaller groups and we have got very good votes from Comoros and Cambodians but they are very small. Different ethnic groups you have got different political views like Egyptian Christian and Lebanese Christian tend to vote Liberal party, Italians once voted Labor they have got more conservative as they stayed here longer, lot of Europeans like Dutch, German they have got the attitude which doesn’t help the Labor, Vietnamese tend to vote Labor now, Chinese majority tend to vote Liberal but they are a bit divided.
14. Would have any message to convey to the community?
I hope I can continue to be closely associated with them; I will always try to attend the events when I can. If I don’t get there I have got something else.
14. My final question to you, what do you think about our initiative starting an English newspaper from the Bangladeshi community?
I think it’s very commendable. I am interested in ethnic groups and I guess
the best example I can give you is an approach by the Turkish community about 10 years ago, they became concerned that the government appointed Imams coming to this country. When they went to the mosque half the young people couldn’t speak Turkish. So they approached us about trying to get courses in English and give cultural course so they could understand Australian society rather than giving their view on the world when they don’t know about this country.
This is the other reason why your initiative is very good .If you don’t do things like this you lose contacts with young people. They have got the opportunity through your paper. You are in the middle and you have something in English about Bangladesh and Bangladeshi matters, it means they can somehow keep connected. This is why I think it’s a very good initiative and it is also a very good way of connecting people with the reality of this country giving information to those who don’t speak Bangla, so I think it’s a very commendable thing.