As you enter the Canley Heights electorate office of independent MP for Fowler Dai Le the smell of freshly laid carpet is overpowering. It’s a smell that’s almost metaphorical.

After 38 consecutive years represented by Labor MPs, one of the most culturally diverse seats in the country was grasped from the party’s hands two years ago, and won by Australia’s first refugee MP.

The 56-year-old didn’t waste any time abandoning the Cabramatta office space that had been used by Labor, claiming it was inaccessible to many in the local community.

But Le’s tenure as member for Fowler is not just about her office’s visibility, or her own visibility as the first refugee and Vietnamese Australia member of the House of Representatives, but rather the visibility of her community on the national stage. 

“What I’ve been doing for the last two and a half years is really shining the spotlight on the talent that we have here in Fowler,” she tells Central News. “That we’re not just multicultural, we’re not just migrants, or we’re not just low socio-economic, but we have talent here.

“And I want to harness that talent from our community, to really showcase them to the country, and eventually the world.”

When I go to Parliament and I sit in there I think, ‘oh my gosh’. I love the cross-bench, but I’m still the only coloured person… and that’s what makes me think I have to change that.

Le says her electorate had suffered a sense of invisibility under Labor custodianship, with local issues ignored because the seat was unlikely to ever fall to the Liberal Party. With an independent in the electorate, Le thinks the country is starting to take notice. 

“Everybody’s saying that they’ve never seen Fowler, Liverpool, Fairfield spoken so much in the media, and it’s not about negative stuff,” says Le, “we are really included.”

Le says she felt this most keenly while media coaching a local migrant baker through a television interview. The baker had faced rising energy costs that threatened their business, and Le encouraged them to speak on national television, to ensure the electorate was visible and their stories were told. 

“We can contribute to that kind of conversation. Often the talent that we hear on TV are just predominantly the same people,” she says. “They look the same, they sound the same.

“What I’m bringing is the diversity of content, of ideas, of experiences, and that’s probably one of the ways that I can also increase the, the diversity in the media as well because, you know, I’m constantly on the Today Show and I’m thankful for that because, you know, you hardly find any person of colour being a main commentator, let alone an MP.”

While representation of cultural diversity is improving in parliament, the House of Representatives cross-bench still has incredibly poor cultural representation. Of the 18 members that sit outside of the major parties, Le is the only person of colour. 


Dai Le wore an Australian flag dress for her maiden speech to parliament in 2022. Photo: supplied by Dai Le.


“When I go to Parliament and I sit in there I think, ‘oh my gosh’. I love the cross-bench, but I’m still the only coloured person on the independent cross-bench, and that’s what makes me think I have to change that”, says Le, “I process it every time I’m in there.”

Cultural diversity became a major issue in the 2022 campaign in Fowler as Tu Le, a Vietnamese-Australian lawyer was set to run as the candidate for Fowler, having been endorsed by popular retiring MP Chris Hayes. Then Labor parachuted in former NSW Premier, and Federal Senator, Kristina Keneally.

The move was controversial, considering Fowler’s demographic as one of the most culturally diverse seats in the country, with a Vietnamese population of almost 20 per cent. Anthony Albanese attempted to argue that American-born Keneally was in fact a migrant. 

While Dai Le won the seat, bolstered by Labor’s blunder, she says neither Labor candidate would have appropriately represented the community.

“This is a problem with major parties. They think because they see a large population of a particular ethnicity they think, oh well we have to put that person of that ethnicity there,” says Le, “that’s not how you engage culturally, linguistically diverse communities.

“It’s understanding what are the issues that they face… [and selecting a candidate] who actually has the lived experience and has a similar background. So in my case, my similar background to all of these is that I was a refugee. I have lived and have walked in their shoes, being a refugee.”

Le escaped the fall of Saigon in 1975 with her family, becoming a refugee in the Phillipines and Hong Kong, before eventually arriving in Australia, where she became a journalist at the ABC.

She entered politics in 2008 to run for the Liberal Party, helping orchestrate swings against Labor in two consecutive elections for the state seat of Cabramatta, before running as an independent councillor for Fairfield. She remained a councillor until she once again took on Labor at the 2022 election, and won the seat of Fowler.


While Le faced similar political opponents to other community independents in Sydney – well funded and well known major party candidates – the political task of a member in Western Sydney could not be further from the task assigned to a representative for a wealthy electorate in Sydney’s East. 

“[Inner-metropolitan residents] don’t have to worry about going to the factory to work at three o’clock in the morning and coming back at midday, for instance, they don’t have to worry about, ‘okay, I have to deal with my grandmother, how she’s going to access some treatment at the hospital’

“Their community’s focus is around climate change, it’s around, you know, a more sustainable world. My world is about more affordable living, ensuring that I’ve got a house, a roof over my head for my kids, [that] I can actually pay cheaper rent and that somehow or other my kids can actually go to school and get fed and ensure that they will succeed at the end of it all.”

Despite the world of difference between their electorates, there isn’t a divide between the other independent members that represent Sydney seats and Le. In fact they all speak highly of her. 

We’re opposite to the teals – not anti, not against, opposite.

However, eyebrows were raised in early 2023, when Le teamed up with longtime independent collaborator, and former Labor councillor Frank Carbone, to create the Dai Le and Frank Carbone Network. In a 2023 article, Carbone was quoted as describing the alliance as “anti-teal”, a statement the media took as a clarion call of opposition to ‘woke’ inner-city politics. Le believed the media missed the point.

“What he meant was we’re opposite to the teals,” says Le, “not anti, not against, opposite.”

This opposition of value is understandable. Le must handle far different electoral challenges than her ‘teal’ counterparts, but they face very similar rivals in the major parties. Many of the independents, including Le, say their major party colleagues feel a sense of entitlement to the seats these women now hold, and are not happy about their future in those electorates. 

“The prime minister in particular, I think Chris Bowen, I think Jason Clare,” Le says. “Where I sit they see me, I face them… when I stand to ask a question they all go ‘oh God’.”

Main image supplied by Dai Le.