South-west Sydney lawyer Tu Le has revealed community rage at the decision to cast her aside and parachute Labor senator Kristina Keneally into a safe lower house seat.
Retiring Fowler MP Chris Hayes had backed Ms Le to replace him at the next federal election but was overruled by the NSW Labor Party.
A local lawyer and community advocate, Ms Le said she was disappointed for the community, which felt it did not get a say in who represented them.
“We know it happens a lot of the time on both sides of politics but I think now people who couldn’t care less about politics are more engaged,” she told ABC radio on Tuesday.
“They’re furious in fact. The public commentary about this clearly shows their rage.”
Senator Keneally, who is a former NSW premier, will move from her home on Sydney’s northern beaches to the multicultural area.
Ms Le, who has Vietnamese heritage, said the “debacle” highlighted issues with diversity in politics.
“I grew up, I live, in this area and I fight for this area every day in my life as a community worker, as an advocate, an organiser and a lawyer,” she said.
Senator Keneally hit back at media coverage of her Labor colleagues questioning the party’s commitment to diversity over the weekend.
“I’ll stand our commitment to multiculturalism up against our Liberal opponents any day of the week,” she said.
“With a leader with a name like Albanese, you can be sure that a commitment to multicultural Australia sits at the heart of his government.”
Senator Keneally is Labor’s deputy leader in the Senate. But her plan to shift comes as it emerged she faced an uncertain political future.
Fellow right faction member Deborah O’Neill received strong support to take top spot on Labor’s NSW Senate ticket at the next election.
With the left’s Jenny McAllister taking second position, Senator Keneally would likely have been relegated to the hard-to-win third spot.
“Since Chris announced his retirement, I have been approached by ALP branch members urging me to consider nomination for the seat of Fowler,” Senator Keneally said on Friday.
“I am humbled by this encouragement.”
She said she aimed to serve as home affairs minister in an Albanese Labor government.
But the looming move has also caused division among sitting Labor MPs. WA MP Anne Aly has branded the decision a huge failure for diversity, while veteran politician Joel Fitzgibbon said not selecting a local candidate was a shame.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has pointed to Ms Aly’s Egyptian heritage and fellow MP Ed Husic’s Bosnian background to show multiculturalism in the caucus.
He has also noted Indigenous MPs and senators Linda Burney, Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy.
On Tuesday, he again defended Labor’s record on diversity – and praised Ms Le.
“The [party’s] leader of the House of Representatives is someone called Albanese and the leader in the Senate is someone called Wong. So the Labor Party has done an enormous amount for diversity,” he said.
“I think she is an outstanding Australian and she has a great commitment to the country and to political change. She’s a great social justice advocate and I have encouraged her to hang in there. She’s 30 years old. I think she has a very bright future ahead of her.”