The moment Gambian realised he had to run

He wants a Parliament that reflects the many diverse Australian life experiences.


By Nadia Hirst

Chris Gambian knows his candidacy is significant for migrants and children of migrants.

Chris Gambian never thought he would run for Parliament as a candidate, until his daughter was born and he felt a responsibility to make a difference.

“I think that politics has become too transactional, it’s too much of one-way traffic where political actors of various kinds are shouting into this void,” he said. “For me, reading the comments on Facebook posts and engaging with a person even when they disagree with you, being available to talk to a person when they want to talk are simple things, really basic human things, that’s how I think the job should be done,” he said.

Gambian’s life story reflects the story of many in multiethnic Banks – he was born and raised in the electorate but his parents migrated from south India.  Around 55 per cent of residents in Banks have parents born overseas, compared with the Australian average of around 35 per cent.

Gambian may not have always dreamed of a career on Canberra’s Capital Hill but he has been involved in politics since his teens, joining the Labor Party at 15. He worked as an official with the Finance Sector Union of Australia for 16 years and is presently the director of Grassroots and Co, a consultancy company that provides training for unions and non-profit organisations.

“I think being a union official teaches you to listen to people, to understand the problem from their perspective and then to work with them to find a solution to the problem, which I’ve actually found very useful as a politician,” he said.

His primary goal is to increase funding for public schools in Banks, as part of Labor’s pledge to boost funding for public schools by $14 billion over the next 10 years.

We are talking in a local Mortdale cafe after he dropped off his daughter at the nearby primary school: “In the seat of Banks alone, $17 million has been effectively taken out of our schools for the next three-year period that should have been in.

“I staffed the [Mortdale Public School] P&C sausage sizzle at the State election because my daughter just started kindergarten there and it was great fun, I spent four hours cooking sausages and selling cakes. If the P&C works very hard, they might raise near $10,000 per year. Now, put that against $380,000 in missing funds, you can’t sell enough sausages to raise that,” he said.

“For me, we have got to fund these schools in what we say is a ‘complete education.’ Every kid in Australia should be able to walk out of Year 12 knowing that they have been fully educated and for free,” he said.

In line with Labor’s policy on climate change, Gambian also believes Australia needs to focus on investing in industries such as lithium battery manufacturing to promote renewable energy and improve employment.  “What Mark Butler and Bill Shorten have recently said is that we want to have a lithium battery manufacturing industry in this country and we want to be the world supplier of lithium batteries.

“The idea that, within the next couple of years, people having batteries in their own houses will become more commonplace and it is going to absolutely transform the industry,” he said.

As the child of migrants in one of Sydney’s most ethnically diverse electorates, Gambian acknowledges that his candidacy is meaningful for Australians who are also migrants or children of migrants.  “I think that the Parliament should be made up of lots of different life experiences. There is not one Australia, there are 25 million different stories.”