Tarneit – Independent: Arnav Sati


By Julius Dennis

Tarneit is Labor country, but an Independent with his heart in the West is urging change

Given the opportunity, Arnav Sati, who was born in India almost 36 years ago, will proudly list the Melbourne suburbs he has lived in since arriving in the city as a student in 2001: Sunshine, Footscray, Laverton, Point Cook, Williams Landing and now Tarneit.

“What I say is, ‘I’ve been a Westy all my life,” he says when asked where he considers home. Like many Tarneit residents, Sati, who became an Australian citizen in 2006, is fed up with a Labor government which he considers neglectful towards the area’s needs. He will be contesting the state election as an independent with a simple slogan: “We Deserve Better! Vote Labor Last.”

When Sati arrived in Australia, his first job was as a kitchen hand. Employed by the food vendor Margo’s, at Crown Casino, he acquired his diploma of ecommerce at TAFE before beginning a Bachelor of Science, majoring in computer science at Victoria University. While he worked, he dreamed of a future in the tech world. To spend his days focussing on his studies, Sati worked graveyard shifts, arriving at Crown at 8.30pm, leaving his clothes in his locker and starting work by 9pm.

At 3am, Sati would ditch his sweaty uniform, grab a bite to eat at the worker’s canteen and catch the 4:35am train home. On that journey he would write poems in Hindi about the changes in his lifestyle in this new country. Hailing from a “well-to-do” Indian family, here he was just another student trying to make ends meet. “What I was seeing was a lot different to what I was used to in India. I used to have a driver and stuff in India, out here I rode on buses and trains,” he recalls.

At Victoria University, Sati received exemplary grades, averaging high distinction throughout his degree. In addition to his work at Margo’s and his studies, he would tutor his fellow students, occasionally teaching in the afternoon what he had learned in that morning’s lecture.

When Sati speaks of this time in his life, there is a certain level of pride, brimming with confidence. “Stats, the toughest subject, my marks were like 97, 98 in stats. Not that many students ever, I use the word ever, have got 97, 98 in stats at Victoria Uni. So you know I was a good student.”

This was a period that polished the man who would enter the IT workforce, in theory, as a top graduate. Sadly, life had other plans. In India, Sati’s father became unwell. Family assets were sold off. Instead of chasing his IT dreams, Sati became a taxi driver to support his mother and brother back home, a stage of his life which lasted a year and-a-half before, in the autumn of 2007, a stroke of luck slid into the back seat of Sati’s cab.

Graham Wright, then an account manager at Dialog, an IT agency involved with large scale projects, was getting a taxi from his office on Collins Street in Melbourne’s CBD, when he struck up a friendly conversation with his cab driver. “It was very obvious to me, just in that short trip, that he was not going to be a taxi driver much longer” Wright says. “It sounded like we could help each other. He seemed pretty switched on and had an idea of what he wanted to do from a personal and professional development point of view.”

Sati showed up the next Monday. Wright and Sati have been professionally linked ever since.

Once in the tech-world, it was a quick rise for Sati. Hired as a Junior Business Analyst, he was promoted within three months. Here, his confidence shone again and, once more, it appears warranted. Uday Rawat, who has worked with Sati on projects at Melbourne University, says Sati has earned himself a title around the office: The Trouble-Shooter.

“I’ve never had a failed IT project in my life,” Sati boasts while sitting in the Coffee Club in the shining and air-conditioned Tarneit Central. The candidate’s aura of confidence is also on display in his appearance: he’s a short man, but sitting there it is hard to tell, his black hair is slicked back and hanging between his loosely buttoned business shirt is a diamond studded gold A. He sips at Earl Grey tea diluted with soy milk, “I can drink this stuff all day,” he smiles.

This confidence will be required should Sati achieve what he aims to in this year’s state election. ­Tarneit is one of the safest Labor electorates in Victoria, its two party preferred vote never having dropped below 60 per cent in the seat’s four election history.

But Sati is not worried about that. He’s worried about violence, schooling, infrastructure and health. He’s worried about Tarneit, and sees the answers in politics. He wants to make Tarneit a marginal seat and swing the spotlight onto the neglected West. “What I really want, my wish, is for people to actually say ‘no’ to Labor this time.”

That said, he still wants to win. Sati understands that this may be tough, but his fight is not one that fits into the framework of an independent running for government to boost their public image. This is not a PR stunt. “The last time I slept at least 8 hours, would have been a fortnight back,” he says, leaning back into the fake leather seats of the Coffee Club, “because a full-time job and the election campaign, there is a lot more to be done. I’m doing it because that is the right thing to do.”

On the campaign trail in Werribee some of the confidence finally pays off. He’s at an event named for a Hindu deity, the Melbourne Ganesh Festival — 17.6 percent of Tarneit has Indian ancestry, compared to 2.7 percent in the rest of Victoria. This is Sati’s first official appearance as a candidate. There is a nervous energy about him, his eyes dart about and his speech speeds up. He is animated amongst voters, he speaks with his arms. His chain is replaced by a tie similar to the one depicted around his neck on the jumbo-sized poster behind his desk. He is shoeless, as is everyone else. He appears as a man of the people, approachable and passionate.

Tarneit is a changing electorate, one that is expanding at a rate that state and local governments seem to support in theory, but not in practice. Sati believes it is in dire need of a shake up, but he might need a little something he has never been short on. However, as Graham Wright puts it, “luck is always just hard work.”