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Migrant MP makes history

7 June 20220 comments

Cassandra Fernando has made history as the first Sri Lankan-born member of the Australian Parliament.

Ms Fernando, the newly elected member for the seat of Holt in Melbourne’s south east, arrived in Australia with her family aged just 11.

Her family have established deep roots in Melbourne’s south east, an area already rich in cultural diversity.

A former union organiser and pastry chef, Ms Fernando says she hopes to be a voice for people from similar backgrounds to herself and who may have felt under-represented or unheard over the years.

“I put my hand up to run as the Labor candidate because I want to be a voice for our community, essential workers and all Australians,” she said.

“As a migrant and a woman, I know too well the difficulty of not having someone to be a voice for you. I know too well the difficulty of not being represented at the decision-making table.

“As I have lived through these difficulties, they have guided me into the person I am today.

“It is an honour to be first Sri Lankan-born Member of Parliament and an honour to be among many Labor members elected who make Parliament more representative of Australian society.

“I want to be an example for every Australian to believe that they and their children can be parliamentary representatives one day,” she said

Ms Fernando is also one of 14 new women joining Parliament for the first time, along with fellow Labor candidate Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah in Higgins and high-profile independents in Monique Ryan (Kooyong) and Zoe Daniel (Goldstein).

And she is also one of six new non-European Labor MPs.

Ms Fernando studied a Certificate III in Education Support and Diploma of Hospitality and volunteered as an educational support trainer with migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia, providing tutoring services for migrants, refugees and youths from non-English speaking backgrounds.

She says her parents taught her to never take anything for granted and instilled three values that she has upholds to this day: hard work, commitment and gratitude.

“My parents taught me that people are entitled to a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work and that we should be committed to our communities,” she said.  

Ms Fernando began her working career stacking shelves at Woolies in Dandenong Plaza as a teenager, and spent almost 15 years baking, stacking shelves and making lifelong friends. 

As a union organiser, she represented workers in the retail and fast food industries.

“I was fighting to improve the pay and conditions of my former colleagues – essential workers who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic,” Ms Fernando said.

She says her volunteering work tutoring migrants and refugees from non-English speaking backgrounds was a way of giving back to society and helping them to make the best of opportunities.

“My parents taught me to be grateful – to our community and to Australia – and to never miss an opportunity to repay this country for what it has given us,” she said.

“I decided to become the candidate for Holt because I wanted to help deliver a better future for the people in my community – a future in which families like hers are not held back or left behind,” Ms Fernando said.