Can you tell us a bit about your cultural background and where you were before deciding to become/run as a politician?
I graduated last year – I studied a degree at UNSW and I’m now working in the IT sector. I was born in India and came to Australia when I was 1. Like so many migrants, we all had a vision for a better future. We all came with the aspiration that tomorrow will be better than yesterday. I guess that really leads to me running – I saw things that really shook my confidence in the system. Year after year I saw things that really made me angry in our local, state, and federal government, and even around the world. Young people are waking up to the fact that the future is not going to be this amazing, beautiful palace. A lot of us are filled with climate grief and climate anxiety. I’m not afraid to say it – I was in a very specific place where I was so tormented by this reality and I was feeling really overwhelmed as to what I could be doing. I realised that I needed to do something about it. So I joined my local Greens groups and I got involved in politics. The climate was my primary, or first, reason for running.
As soon as I put my hand up, I realised that Australia is so diverse – nearly 50% of Aussies are either born overseas or have parents who were born overseas. That fact and figure really stood by me because when you see government, you see predominantly older than 50, white males. That is definitely not representative of the multicultural and diverse communities that we have. Especially in my area, it’s so multicultural and diverse, and we do have this incumbent Labor leader who I feel doesn’t really represent the community. I’ve tried to talk to them, email them, but haven’t gotten any response, and others have done the same thing. It made me realise that a lot of these people either don’t take the job seriously, or don’t have what it takes to represent the community. When I started to run, I realised that I’m an extension of this diverse community that exists. When I was out door-knocking and talking to people, they were really happy to see a person of colour put their hand up, especially in a country where colonialism is still embedded in our system. We still see systematic racism everywhere. We forget the White Australia Policy was in the 1960s and the remnants of that still exist everywhere which we can see just looking at your representatives in government. My cultural background shaped me for who I am. Growing up I tried to disassociate my heritage or cultural identity in order to fit in. I think that’s a scenario that a lot of Aisan-Australians face. Asian-Australians don’t have that thing binding us together as does, say, Asian-Americans – they have a very strong identity. Whilst there may be flaws in that aspect – they might not represent all of Asia, they may only represent East Asians – at least they have a base. Over here, when you represent yourself as Aisan, it’s an “either or” – you’re Asian or you’re Australian. I’ve seen people becoming citizens who still have an image of Australians being like that. Even though they’re becoming a citizen, they still feel like they’re not Australian or they’re not Australian enough, which always feeds into the culture of always feeling like you’re the other. But we are Australian – we’ve been living here most of our lives if not all our lives. And we deserve to be represented. And that was another big reason.
How does your cultural background shaped the way you engaged/looked that with Australian politics?
It’s interesting. Growing up, and speaking to a lot of Indian migrants, we often have the mentality of taking what we have, really cherishing it, and saying “this is good enough”. We’ve come from countries that are not as beautiful or as good as Australia. As soon as we come here, even if there are some things that we disagree about or that we might not like, we don’t talk about it or we just appreciate the good bits. For most of my life growing up, there wasn’t a big emphasis on politics, there wasn’t a big emphasis on standing up for what you believe in because you don’t want to be labelled as the outsider. In highschool, meeting more like-minded people, I realised that the time to stay silent has been long enough. It’s time to stand up and express those things and talk to those communities to say, “The issues you are facing, you might be able to internalise it and be okay with it, but there are so many other people that are experiencing it as well.” I think that it’s a moral obligation at this point to speak about it plainly and openly.
Just recently, I was talking to someone with Asian heritage who mentioned their experience with casual racism in everyday life. When they mentioned racism, they lowered their tone and lowered their volume, which gave the effect that what they were saying shouldn’t be said. I said to them, “the time to whisper is gone. You need to speak up. You need to be loud.” I think giving that confidence to Asian Australians is so important because it’s so easy to feel marginalised and like you need to keep things to yourself. But the reality is we need to speak up. Growing up, my identity and heritage was very much just “do as your told” but now I realise that that was a symptom of society making us feel like we are “other” and we should just sit back and be quiet. But that’s not right at all.
How were you supported as an Asian Australian in/contending to be part of the political scene?
My parents were very proud and very happy that I put my hand up. They saw me doing things like going to climate rallies, and being passionate about all these issues. So taking the next step of running was something they were proud about.
My party, the Greens, not only do they want to encourage people who are marginalised, LGBTQI+ or people of colour or have a disability, they actively encourage people because they are representatives of Australians and those communities.
For example, Jordon Steele-John, he’s a senator in Western Australia and a representative of the disabled community in Australia. The fact that there are over 4million Australians living with a disability or who identify as disabled. We don’t see enough visibility about accessibility issues. It’s so important for people to stand up and likewise for people of colour and people of Asian-Australian heritage. The Greens are very supportive of that. They’re also very encouraging to see that they are very encouraging of young people in particular.
How would you explain the lack of Asian Australian representation in Parliament/why is there such a lack of Asian Australian representation, given how large the community is?
I think it’s a systematic issue. We’re taught to feel and speak in certain ways. It’s perpetuated by our cultures – a lot of Asian cultures are very patriarchal, submissive to your family, and there’s a lot of shame in speaking out and breaking out from that mould.
That heritage doesn’t help when society doesn’t want you to contribute or speak out. For those Asian Australians who do break out of the mould and speak out, it’s so courageous that you’re putting yourself in the spotlight where other Australians don’t welcome you. It is crazy the amount of hate you get when you just represent your community. When I was setting up my social media pages, I got my first racist comment. I was just dumbstruck. I don’t blame the person, I blame the system. There are many people who are not speaking out. So it doesn’t help when you see that kind of racism. I really respect the people who are standing up because they are shining the light for more people to be comfortable to speak out and be more politically active.
Were/Are there any barriers you’ve had to face? And what were they?
Surprisingly no – it was a very easy process. I joined the Greens, my local group, last year because I really wanted to do something. This was the backdrop of the local government elections. As soon as I joined, they asked me to be a running candidate for the local council. And that was such an easy process. As soon as that was over, in December, the federal election started to loom and we realised that nobody in our group was willing to stand up. And that was going to be a shame. We need someone to represent the community. We need an outlet for people to have a choice otherwise we’d be condemning people to a two-party system, which is an illusion for choice. At the time I didn’t realise it would end up like this and it would just be a paper candidacy. But once I started to campaign and talk to people, I realised it wasn’t just about me and there was a larger force. Feeling like you can represent the people in the community made me want to get more involved.
” But once I started to campaign and talk to people, I realised it wasn’t just about me and there was a larger force. Feeling like you can represent the people in the community made me want to get more involved. “Apurva Shukla
What would you say to Asian Australians who are voting for the first time in this election?
It does feel like politics is a mudslinging contest where either way you vote things won’t change. That’s what you want you to think, especially the media. They want you to be apathetic so you vote for the same people so things don’t change. The numbers are so striking – 828 is the number of votes we needed in the last election for the Greens to have been in the balance of power. To think that we were just a hairline away from reaching that number is very encouraging. This election is not one of apathy. The time to be apathetic is gone. I also went through the phase of feeling overwhelmed and feeling like you can’t change or do anything. But we need to be radical. We cannot accept the status quo for what it is. It’s now or never. Especially relating to the climate emergency. We need to act now. It’ll take incremental progress and we need people to show up so we need to not give up hope. The way our society and capitalism works is we’re taught to be individuals first and then think about other people. But we long for community and for people that think the same as us.
What advice would you give to those who want to make a change in their community?
I think we’re taught to be individuals. Everything about the way we live is structured around individual success. There’s very little emphasis on community, but community is the bedrock for social prosperity and happiness in general. Just having a community around you leads to better health outcomes and it’s easy to understand why. As social creatures, we long for that. But the reality is we’ve been pushed and we’ve been silenced into individualism and isolation. Social media also doesn’t help. To those people who want to be part of your community – just get out there. If there are local events happening in your community – just show up and get to know people. I think for so many Australians, most of us don’t know our neighbours, most of us don’t know the people in close proximity to us. We feel more connected to people around the world – and that leads to a dangerous situation. It leads to an incohesive society. We need people to come together and connect. These connections can be found everywhere.
If you had to introduce one aspect of Indian culture to the broader non-Asian community what would it be?
I think a lot of people associate India with its food and cuisine. I think that’s just scratching the surface. There’s so much depth in the culture. A lot of Indian culture is rooted in tradition and religion. A lot of people associate India with a place where you go to “find myself”. To a degree that’s not wrong. I’ve been interested in Buddhism and meditation for quite some time. Digging deeper into it can reveal the origins of mindfulness and the wisdom that’s existed, not only in India, but throughout all of Asia. dismantling the idea that knowledge from the east is somehow “voodoo” and different from western knowledge. Reframing how we view these countries, instead of from a colonialist perspective, and really appreciating the richness and culture front he get-go. So digging deeper into superficial things we associate with the countries and understanding the history and people behind these things.