The fugitive who defeated Kristina Keneally in a fight seat choked as he recalled how she nearly drowned while fleeing Vietnam.
Dai Le won the Folwer seat in south-west Sydney on May 21 after former NSW Prime Minister Labor attempted to parachute from her wealthy island enclave 70km away.
The independent MP took a swipe at Ms Keneally in her first speech to Parliament on Monday, also comparing the Covid lockdown to the tyrannical regime she fled as a child.
Ms Le donned traditional Vietnamese clothing printed with an Australian flag as dozens of supporters cheered her on from the gallery of the House of Representatives.
New MP Dai Le donned traditional Vietnamese clothing printed with an Australian flag as dozens of supporters cheered her on from the House gallery
She told how she escaped the fall of Saigon in April 1975 on a rickety boat to Hong Kong with her mother and two younger sisters.
Her father, a lawyer working for the Americans, did not make it onto the boat and she never saw him again.
“I remember running with my mother and two younger sisters to get to a boat and fighting my way through the screams and screams of women and children. I had no idea what was going on,’ she said.
“All I can remember is the screams, the panic, the chaos and a moment on the boat as I turned to look back at my birth country to understand what had happened and just big, black smoke saw in the distance.
“I remember the moment I thought we were going to die when a big storm hit our boat.”
Ms. Le’s voice broke as she recalled holding onto the boat for her life with her sister as the boat rocked and her mother held my other sister tightly in her arms.
“I remember being soaking wet under the tarpaulin when the sea hit us and it rained,” she said.
“I remember my face almost touching the ocean as our boat rocked so violently from the storm, and I remember my mother warning me to hold my sister and a plastic canister if the boat overturned, until we could find each other.
“When I tried to peek through the tarp, all I could hear was the storm and [I] was afraid we wouldn’t survive as neither of us could swim.
Ms. Le’s voice broke as she recalled holding onto the boat for her life with her sister as the boat rocked and her mother held my other sister tightly in her arms
“My mother continued to pray, prayer beads in hand, while the boat continued to rock. The ocean was pitch black and all I could think about was falling into that black abyss.
“I prayed in my heart that if the boat capsized, I would still cling to my sister and find my mother.
“The next morning the storm eased but everyone was exhausted. I remember seeing bodies lying on the boat like corpses.
“I remember the years in refugee camps dreaming of being able to lie on a real bed. To have a real home and go to a real school.’
Ms Le choked again, this time with joy and gratitude, as she discussed how Australians welcomed their family.
“I remember the moment we were resettled as refugees in Australia, known to many in the refugee camps as the island with the best education system in the world, and we remembered it as we left [Sydney Airport] the feeling of acceptance and gratitude,” she said.
“We were filled with hope as we gazed upon the horizon of endless possibilities.
“Australia, you welcomed my mother, my family, with open arms. You have given us comfort, food, and a warm bed to sleep on.’
Ms Le thanked Neil and Kylie Williamson for helping her family integrate and being at the gallery for her speech, and a friend for introducing her to Anzac biscuits and making her feel like she belonged.
Her mother worked as a cleaner, starting with an Italian migrant who set up a shoe store.
Ms Le is congratulated by opposition leader Peter Dutton after his inaugural speech
But as grateful as Ms Le was for how Australians were supporting her family, she had harsh words for last year’s NSW Covid lockdown, which has been particularly harsh in her area.
She compared the restrictions in western Sydney, which were controversially stronger and more policed than the rest of the city, to the communist dictatorship her family had fled.
“We were not allowed to travel more than a 5km radius from our homes, we were told to obtain travel permits, we were forced to get tested every three days, we had helicopters flying around our area as well as police officers on horseback and men in uniform knocking on people’s doors,’ she said.
“Although the intention was good, we are a city made up of people who fled tyrannical regimes and war zones, like my own family and my own home country.
“Last time I checked, a government that denies individuals the freedom to choose how they live, work and raise their families was labeled a communist dictatorship — a political system that my family and I have escaped .”
Ms Le was elected an independent in the heartland of the Labor Party because Ms Keneally was chosen to contest the seat over local candidates.
The former senator was chosen by Labor headquarters despite living 70km away on the affluent island of Scotland’s Northern Beaches and renting a house she vacated days after the election defeat.
Voters rejected her so strongly that the seat swung from a Labor majority of 28 per cent in 2019 to five per cent in Ms Le’s favour.
“We believed it was time for one of us with lived experience, who had come of age, who lived and lived most of our lives in this community, to fight and stand up for us, to represent us,” said Ms. Le in her speech.
“Especially in the last few years during Covid and lockdown, talks started in a small team. Could we sit back and take our fellowship for granted again?’
“The people of Fowler wanted and needed a representative who came from their community and would never forget the personal challenges they face every day and who have stepped in our shoes and gone through what they have gone through.
“Not just at election time, but every day.”
There’s more to come
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11180091/Vietnamese-refugee-Dai-Le-cries-slams-Kristina-Keneally-Covid-lockdowns-maiden-speech.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Vietnamese refugee Dai Le cries, slams Kristina Keneally and Covid lockdowns in maiden speech