The stories of three Councillors from Greater Shepparton City Council have featured in a Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) handbook for culturally diverse Victorians considering running for local government.
Mayor, Cr Shane Sali, Cr Seema Abdullah and Cr Greg James have shared their own personal stories in running for local government, including their challenges, highlights and helpful tips to encourage others planning to embark on the same journey.
The VLGA handbook titled ‘Represent’ addresses the critical need to encourage Victorians from a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and abilities to run for council. The handbook acknowledges the richness that comes with cultural and linguistic diversity and the better decision making, improved adaptive capacity and social cohesion that arises from broader representation.
The handbook includes important information about council and councillors, considerations before you run, things to know when running for council and a councillor’s life, including 13 interviews with diverse Victorian councillors on how they navigate the world of local government.
Cr Abdullah, who features on the cover, shared her story of growing up in Pakistan before settling in Melbourne in 2004 and then later in Shepparton where she worked as a Health Informatics Unit project manager for the University of Melbourne. In 2014 she enrolled in Council’s Community Leadership program, which proved to be a game-changer for her to enter the world of community development and led her to run for the 2016 local government elections.
“I am happy and humbled that I am the first Pakistani born, first-generation migrant-Muslim woman from a middle-class family who became a Councillor, Mayor and Deputy Mayor in Greater Shepparton. This is perhaps also the first in the whole state of Victoria and in Australia,” she said.
“I am happy to have demonstrated that I have broken many glass ceilings and overcome barriers to inspire other immigrants that joining Australian politics is indeed doable and relevant.”
Cr Sali, a third-generation Albanian migrant, said he was enticed to run for Council due to the opportunity to make bigger and better decisions for the community. He describes Shepparton as an anchor for a lot of other multicultural communities.
“So many cultures call this place home and I don’t think there is a place like this in Australia. You can’t create this environment unless the foundations have been put in place to support migration and diversity over many years,” Cr Sali said.
“I love sitting around with eight other Councillors that have a sense of love and connection to the region and want to see it prosper. The conversations are positive.”
Cr Greg James is a proud Yorta Yorta man and the first Indigenous person elected to local government in Shepparton. Cr James said he was approached by a consortium of Elders to run for the 2020 elections, with their vision being to have an Aboriginal person on local Council.
“Our council hasn’t had an Indigenous person on it in the last 140 years, since its existence. I thought it is time we had a person in our community put their hand up,” he said.
“I feel like I’ve opened a door so I talk to young Indigenous leaders. I say put your hand up. I want you to come on the journey. I’ve invited four young leaders to Council to shadow me, to sit in on my briefings, to come with me so that they can see what I do from a Council point of view.
“An Aboriginal person is the best example of culture that anyone could ever want. We bring to the government a real-life perspective of the traditional – walking, living, breathing culture. We just need to promote opportunities and we’ll see some remarkable changes. It’s a changing of the guard, a changing of the mindset.”
View the VLGA handbook here.