Charisma Kaliyanda: Labor’s new South Western Sydney star

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Charisma Kaliyanda says a moment in time while campaigning for the state seat of Holsworthy in 2011 made her realise how important it was for someone like her to be involved in politics.

“I was handing out at a train station when I saw these young girls on their way to school,’’ she recalls.

“The girls looked at my poster, then looked at me, and you see the flick, and they go, oh, I’ve never seen this kind of thing before – and that’s when the enormity of it kind of hit me.

“I thought: yeah, this is worthwhile doing, not because you win or lose, but because you have a role in shaping community perceptions and stereotypes of what political representatives look like.

“And it was because of that campaign I said yes for council, from the response from people, I thought, wow, this is bigger than me.’’

Ms Kaliyanda, who was in her early 20s at the time, was asked to run in Holsworthy by Liverpool MP Paul Lynch.

“He was very honest with me, which I very much appreciated, in the sense that 10 and a half percent is not an easy margin, it’s not something that’s easy to knock over in one election, it’s probably a two election strategy sort of thing,’’ she says.

“I said yes because I thought, what an honour to be asked to represent the party more broadly in the community.’’

Fast forward to 2022 and Labor Party leader Chris Minns announces that Paul Lynch will retire at the next election [March 25, 2023].

Mr Minns also announces that Charisma Kaliyanda would be the party’s candidate at the election.

When the announcement was posted on social media, the response was both positive and huge across the entire South Western Sydney community.

“Congratulations Charishma. You will be an outstanding representative for Liverpool. I wish you every success on the campaign trail,’’ was a typical comment, this one from Dr Eddie Jackson, the former Liverpool Council CEO.

There were many more like it, but they would not have come as a great surprise to those of us who have kept an eye on Charisma Kaliyanda’s progress over the past decade or so.

The thing to remember is that she is coming off the same assembly line that produced such political greats as Gough Whitlam, John Kerin, Mark Latham and Craig Knowles.

And while she may be the first woman from that assembly line, there’s every reason to believe Ms Kaliyanda could reach the same heights or maybe even a little extra.

She’s already proven that she has the courage of her convictions by going public to criticise her party for endorsing Kristina Keneally for the South Western Sydney seat of Fowler.

For those that don’t know her yet, Charisma Kaliyanda was just four years old when her parents migrated to Australia from India.

Charisma Kaliyanda on the campaign trail with a helper.

“We first settled in Castlereagh Street, Liverpool,’’ she says.

“I didn’t speak English initially and was in the ESL [English as a second language] class at Marsden Road Public School – funnily enough I ended up at high school with my ESL teacher’s son.’’

The young Charisma also attended Newbridge Heights Public school in Chipping Norton, then Macquarie Fields High School, followed by university.

A registered occupational therapist, Ms Kaliyanda also currently works at UNSW, building awareness of and reducing stigma around mental health and well-being so that young people can access the help they need.

When we sit down at Moorebank Sports Club to talk about her campaign, the first thing I ask her is how she got interested in politics in the first place.

“I was at university and in a tutorial and complaining about cuts to courses,’’ says Ms Kaliyanda.

“One of my classmates said to me: yes, I agree with you, but what are you going to do about it?

“And I said, that’s a very good question, and she followed up with, well, a group of us is running for the Students Representative Council (SRC), we’ve got a vacancy for someone to run as a councillor for the STEM stream. Would you be interested?

“I was a science student, so I said, sure, why not?’’

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Ms Kaliyanda was elected to the SRC, joined the Labor party about 18 months later and she was on her way.

She says the main reason she is in politics is to fight for equity of opportunity for the people she represents, South Western Sydney.

“This is something I have seen constantly, how incredible people with incredible skills don’t have the opportunity or the pathways to help them realise those talents and those skills,’’ says Ms Kaliyanda.

“That’s where our system can do a lot better in having those pathways available.

“I went to school in Macquarie Fields and lots of people I went to school with have left the country because of better opportunities elsewhere.’’

After another tilt at Holsworthy in 2015, Ms Kaliyanda was elected to Liverpool Council a year later, and again at last year’s local government election.

But her biggest challenge will come at the state election next March.

She says she is a bit uncomfortable introducing herself as a politician, but knows it’s part of the territory.

“I never joined the Labor party or put my hand up with the expectation of being in state or federal parliament; or even being a councillor for that matter,’’ she tells me.

“I am really humbled by the opportunity to make changes in whatever platform, but fundamentally I think it’s not something I see as an entitlement.’’

Curious and empathetic is how Charisma Kaliyanda describes herself, two attributes that she says drive her forward.

“At school, I loved learning about the world, getting involved in different activities,’’ she says.

“So the big focus in the campaign will be introducing myself to people,

“There’s new boundaries for the electorate, as well, you’ve got Bonnyrigg Heights for example, which is in the LGA of Fairfield, lots of second generation migrants building young families, all of that.

“You’ve got a lot of pockets with different communities with different needs.

“I want to make sure I am talking to the issues that affect the people in each of those areas.’’

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