Federal Election 2019: Meet Sunny Chandra and Robert Whitehill

Summary

Website: http://sunny4senate.com
http://www.robertwhitehill.net
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sunny4senate/
https://www.facebook.com/Robert-Whitehill-Independent-Senate-Candidate-for-Victoria-387949562009940/
Slogans:
Regional Growth, Renewable Energy, Immigration Matters
Best for everyone
Themes: Chandra: better infrastructure and more money for regional Victoria, renewable energy.  Centrist.
Whitehill: public transport, so very much public transport, renewable energy, autistic acceptance, anti-bullying. Centre left.
Electorate:
Upper House: VIC
Preferences: Chandra and Whitehill have preferenced the Secular Party first, followed by Independents for Climate Action Now, the Animal Justice Party, the Small Business Party and the Pirate Party.  The odd one out is the Small Business Party – the others are all fairly progressively aligned, and interested in climate change and the environment.  There’s a mild libertarian streak in here, too.  It’s an unusual mix.

Policies and Commentary

Chandra and Whitehill are running as grouped independents, which means you can vote for them above the line, but they each have their own website and Facebook page – and their own priorities – which is unusual.  I suspect that they are like-minded, and chose to run together to increase their share of the vote.  This is going to benefit Chandra more than Whitehill, but it’s still a better strategy than being ungrouped, I think.

Chandra appears first on the ballot, so I’ll start with him. His website is very pretty, with three large banners in rotation on the front page, which read:

  • We promise to build a stronger regional Victoria
  • Increased federal funding for R&D in solar and wind  power generation to provide renewable energy to regional Victoria
  • New immigration incentives to channel $10bn annually from international students into regional Victoria

One senses that regional Victoria may be a priority for Chandra.  There are links to his policies on immigration, regional growth, renewable energy, and inclusive society, and also a link to his story, and then we get to his Mission and Vision.  This comes in six parts.  He wants more federal funding for research and installation of solar and wind power; he wants to foster harmonious integration of immigrants into Australia, and also make family reunion visas more readily available; he wants to channel money from international students into regional Australia, and he wants to balance Australia’s interests in the region between China and India.  Also, his economic policy is a little odd:

Reduce the cost of living, freeze existing wages and taxes, and ease the burden of high mortgage repayments, petrol prices and power bills.

Freezing wages seems really weird when combined with the other bits and pieces, unless he has a plan to reduce taxes and the cost of living to such a degree that wages stay stable or rise in real terms.  (I mean, I feel compelled to add that freezing wages seems like something the Small Business Party would like to do, so maybe it is intentional, but it really seems out of place among the other economic policies).

There are so many links on this page, but they actually all seem to go to the four pages of Chandra’s Manifesto, or to Chandra’s biography or history.  This is an interesting design choice, but according to his biography, Chandra is a ‘lateral thinker’, so that may explain it.  His biography also tells me that he came to Australia from India in 1975 (his wife was born in Australia), and that he is an IT specialist who specialises in cloud-based database management solutions.  (Ooh, and he used to own a cafe in Coburg.  I wonder which one?  Ah – it looks like it was before my time, in fact).

Chandra is also a Registered Migration Agent, and the founder of SUNMARG Migration Australia.  He tells us her:

Came into politics because of a passionate belief in Regional Growth whereas most Federal funds currently go to cities, a belief in Renewable Energy whereas Coal is being promoted by most political parties, and a sense of helplessness and outrage at the Extremist positions on Immigration being taken by some in the major Parties.

I like him already.

He also lists his various volunteer and community roles, which include work with Rotary, the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission, and the ABC and Hindi Language Radio.  Endearingly, he also tells us a bit about himself on a personal level.

Married to Margaret with adult children leading independent lives in Australia and the UK; interested in Kabir’s writings (15th-century Indian Mystic poet) and home gardening.

Goodness, am I actually going to be lucky enough to get *two* independents I want to vote for at this election?  Chandra really does seem lovely.  But perhaps I should look at his policies before I get too excited…

Chandra’s first policy is on Immigration Matters.

I am committed to introduce Federal legislation to improve the complex and sometimes harsh immigration rules, increase Immigration in a planned manner to support our economy, and encourage immigrants to establish new businesses and settle in Regional areas.

He feels that the Migration Act of 1958 needs a complete overhaul, having been founded when Australia was just emerging from the White Australia policy.  Amendments since then have made it complicated and confusing, and this makes life difficult for clients.  In general, he wants more rights for immigrants, and to make their lives easier.

I will press at the Federal level for changes, for example to the “Genuine Temporary Entrant (GTE)” requirement for Visitor visas, for removing the “No Work” condition for Temporary and Bridging visas and for relaxing the conditions for Partner visas and Children visas to come for family reunion e.g. I will press for longer/less expensive Parent Visas.

I’m not an expert on immigration by any means, but I feel very strongly about the problems of preventing people on temporary or bridging visas, many of them refugees, from working, so I’m in favour of this.  I am also in agreement regarding family reunion visas, for similar reasons.

Chandra also wants to encourage education providers to locate their colleges in regional areas, to encourage overseas students to move to regional Victoria, so that they can start putting down roots there as they progress to permanent residency.   He does want immigrants to assimilate to Australian Cultural Values ‘like “mateship & fair go” and the “good on you” generosity, which has attracted us immigrants here in the first place.”  I am finding that both endearing and mildly disturbing.

He wants to allow long stay visas, students and dependent family members to work, making sure workers and employers abide by fair work regulations and laws.  Oh, and he feels that they should be encouraged to join Unions for their protection.

OK, I’m going to pause here to note that I’m having a bit of difficulty with some of this, and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a little bit more racist than I would hope to be.  I am, as I think has been pretty clear here, pro-refugee and generally view immigration as a social and economic good.  But I have to admit, the attitude of ‘let’s make it super easy for lots of people to come here and work’ is making me slightly uneasy.  I think it’s the bit about encouraging overseas students to come to Australia and settle here permanently – this would be an excellent plan for a country that is underpopulated, but that isn’t an issue we are facing.  I think there is a qualitative difference between international students coming here, deciding that actually, this is a really nice place, and applying to stay, and a plan that involves intentionally inviting and encouraging overseas students to come here and study as a pathway to permanent residency.  I support the former, but I’m less keen on the latter, which sounds like a pathway to overpopulation.  (Am I turning into #Sustainable Australia?  Eep!)

What I think we are seeing here is the enthusiasm of a man who came to Australia and found it completely delightful and generous and full of mateship and just wants to share this joy with others, and this is lovely… but I’m not sure it is entirely sustainable in the way he wants to do it.

Chandra is worried about domestic violence and particularly cases where one partner threatens the other with withdrawal of sponsorship that could result in visa cancellation.  There seems to be a step missing here, because he says that

Laws have been passed in Victoria and I will press for supporting legislation at the Federal level for changes to Australian Law and Immigration Regulations which will enforce their compliance.

I think he might be talking about this?  

If so, it sounds like it might already be happening – but perhaps this is one of those things that is policy rather than practice.

On Regional Growth, Chandra wants to focus on sustainable long-term growth in regional areas, specifically by building universities in regional Victoria and encouraging overseas students to study here.

Encouraging international students to live and study in our beautiful regional towns will not only see an increase in revenue in these areas but it will also deliver a rich cultural experience for all concerned.

This increase will see a real rise in employment opportunities for people living in these communities. Real jobs that will translate to real wages in the pockets of everyday people.

Maybe I’m the one who is inconsistent, because when he frames it like that, I’m all for it.

Chandra points out that our cities are too full, and we need to get new migrants (and, presumably, Australians who are already here) out to urban Victoria.  This requires building the infrastructure and employment opportunities that people require.  Chandra feels that if we make regional Australia appealing, this will also drive down house prices in the cities, and he might be right about that.

He is also concerned about quality of life for elderly Australians.

With an ageing population, we are now seeing an increased need for aged care workers and more structures in place to keep older people in their own homes.

A Strong family unit has always been the key to a strong thriving Australia, and although the family structure has changed the values have remained the same. I am committed to ensuring that family values are always upheld whilst I move forward to ensure that all Australians are safe within their own homes and communities.

This ties in with our policy to encourage new Immigrants to come and settle in Regional Australia.

Again, I have a feeling that there are some missing steps here that are clear to Chandra, but not the reader – at a guess, he is talking about family reunion visas again.

Also, don’t think I didn’t notice that nod to family values.  I don’t think that it’s code for being weird about gay people on this particular occasion – English is Chandra’s second language, and he clearly speaks and writes it well, but idiom (especially idiom with weird subtext) is one of those things that tends to get picked up last in language acquisition.  Also, his running mate is pretty anti-bullying and recently posted a meme calling out Israel Folau’s homophobic remarks.  So I’m going to be cautiously optimistic on this score.

Chandra’s policy on renewable energy is a simple one: we need to take action on climate change immediately.

In a land such as ours, we must use the natural resources we have to produce renewable energy. Solar, wind and wave energy are available to us in abundance and all year round. We need to focus on the infrastructure to maximize the energy output. In our pledge to move towards a more sustainable energy source we will work on securing more cost-effective and planet friendly ways to power our community.

Reducing emissions and reducing energy costs are both priorities here.  It’s good, sensible policy, and requires no further commentary from me.

Last of all, we come to Chandra’s Core Beliefs and Inclusive Society.   He once again praises the virtues of cultural assimilation and mateship:

We are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cuisine, but at the same time we are a proudly culturally homogeneous nation.

In addition to the policy issues above, Chandra touches here on the importance of equality of opportunity and respect for women; he believes in affordable child care, quality education for children and young people (he does not express an opinion about the public education system and how it should be funded), and high quality aged care; and he wants us to be politically neutral in international affairs.

And once again we have that emphasis on assimilation:

I strongly believe in multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-racial, multi-cuisine communities BUT I have realised in my 44 years as an Australian citizen, that Loyalty to the rule of Australian Law comes first and the politics of Australia must remain above personal religious and cultural beliefs.

I will support Federal and State laws which encourage immigrants to assimilate, under an over-arching umbrella of Australian Cultural Values.

Oh, Chandra, please don’t tell me that you, too, fear the skittering feet of Creeping Sharia?  Surely not? (Seriously, if this were a conservative Christian or anti-immigration political party, I would know exactly how to interpret this, and it would not be good)

I really don’t like having my illusions shattered, so I went and did a bit of Facebook stalking and was somewhat reassured by this video, which Chandra made in response to Jessica Whelan’s horrible anti-Muslim comments last Thursday.  Once again, I am inclined to blame a lack of awareness of subtext rather than underlying Islamophobia.

That’s about all for Chandra, so let’s turn to his running mate, Robert Whitehill.  Whitehill is running on the tagline ‘Best for Everyone’, and his website has a much more homemade feel than Chandra’s (though having said that, it’s actually easier to navigate).  His home page has a photo of him working as a community volunteer at Mornington Railway, and then links to his About, Policies and FAQ pages.

Whitehill’s about page tells us that he is from Frankston, and has a younger brother with an intellectual disability.  He likes computers, animation, and game development, but most of all he loves trains and is passionate about transport planning.

Robert is a passionate advocate for world-class public transport, sustainability and equality, and isn’t afraid to take on road lobbyists, climate deniers and anti-vaxxers when he sees doing so as being in the best interests of the greater good. This was part of his inspiration to run for both state and federal government.

Robert maintains his interests in games and pop culture, with a particularly strong love of video game franchise Pokémon and LEGO’s biggest 00s franchise Bionicle. Robert even represented Australia in the Pokémon Video Game World Championships in San Francisco in 2016.

Let me to be the first to say – Robert Whitehill for PM!  Seriously, action on climate change, better public transport and righteously annoyed with anti-vaxxers?  Sign me up.

His policies are divided into a Big 3, which all go into considerable detail, and four one-line policies.

Policy number one is, of course, transport.  He starts by pointing out that the more motorways people build, the more people are encouraged to drive, and the worse congestion gets.  He points out that cars take up more space per person than any other mode of transport, meaning that there is less space for housing, farms and other businesses.  Whitehill is thus against building more highways, and wants world=class public transport.

At the local level, I will push for more frequent bus services going to more places, as well as more separated bike lanes that encourage cycling, separate bikes from cars, and hopefully end the war between the two modes. I will also push for discounted fares for travel only within districts. In Melbourne this will mean $1 if you travel no more than 2 hours in a day, and $2 for longer travel, for all commuters. Lastly, I will push for traffic light priority for buses and trams to reduce their travel times (reducing pressure on fleet numbers) and further promote transitioning to sustainable transport. In Melbourne, I will also push for investment in our tram network, extending it to key interchanges and locations, and making 100% DDA-compliant.

For longer trips, I will push for investment in railways. Unlike motorways, railways create permanent jobs in in the form of station staff, conductors, drivers and fleet maintenance crews. They also take thousands of cars off the road (roughly 800 per train depending on its size and class), slashing traffic congestion. This includes high-speed rail between Melbourne and Brisbane, which will take hundreds of flights a day out of the sky, massively reducing pollution and fuel consumption from planes.

And yes, I will build the Simpsons Monorail. It will run initially from Melbourne Airport to Doncaster via Highpoint Shopping Centre and Melbourne Lonsdale Street, and then be extended to Ringwood, Knox, Rowville and Dandenong.

I’m on board with this.  So to speak.

Whitehill is in favour of decentralisation, and points out that regional rail will help with this.  He also wants to upgrade our rail networks to  make them safer and more reliable, and he has a detailed plan for extending the rail and tram network.  You can tell that he has put a *lot* of time into this.  Indeed, if you are keen, you can download a 53.5MB download of his entire vision for Victoria’s public transport network.  It’s 174 pages long, and let me apologise to Australia right now for the fact that all my friends just clicked on that link simultaneously and probably brought down the NBN.  (There are a lot of PT enthusiasts in my circle of friends.)

(Also, Robert, if you are reading this, may I make a modest addition to your proposals?  As the website says, this is an idea whose time has come.)

Policy 2 is Environment and Sustainability, and Whitehill wants you to know that Climate Change is real.  We need to transition away from oil and coal, develop low emissions technology, minimise car use, and have fewer children.  Whitehill’s plans are:

  • Sustainable transport
  • Stop Adani
  • Oppose oil drilling in the Great Australian Bight
  • Transition away from coal and oil (including cutting any subsidies)
  • Promote and subsidise renewable energy
  • Promote energy conservation at all levels, including through an advertising blitz
  • Address limits to growth and natural resources
  • Initiatives to address overpopulation, including family planning programs and an advertising blitz
  • Tree-planting initiatives
  • Sustainable infrastructure and construction

You know, I think this is about the first time I’ve seen anyone be this blunt about family planning and the need to have fewer children in an overpopulated world – even the Sustainables beat around the bush a bit with this one.

Policy 3 is Autistic Acceptance and Equality.

Over the past few decades, Australia has made leaps and bounds in addressing and promoting equality for LGBTI people, worthy of international praise. However, very little is being done to address similar prejudices against people on the Autism spectrum. Any attempt to address that inequality gets quickly dismissed and swept under the rug.

You may have heard the saying “vaccines cause Autism”. Obviously this is wrong, but anti-vaxxers who believe that still continue to preach the lie. But the saying is more than a lie: it’s a form of hate speech. Not only is it an attempt to demonise vaccines, but it also demonises people on the Autism Spectrum.

And again I say, Robert Whitehill for PM!

He goes on to point out that Autism is a spectrum, and is angry at the tendency of anti-vaxxers to claim that everyone on the spectrum is severely disabled.  He points out that autistic people are also discriminated against in employment (I had no idea that the unemployment rate for Autistic people was 31.6%), and that they suffer from bullying at schools.

Even if I’m not voted in, I will always speak up for Autistic people and advocate for their equality and respect at every level. I will push for awareness and acceptance programs in schools, do advertising blitzes to promote Autism among the general public, promote the strengths of Autism to employers with the aim of slashing the Autistic unemployment rate to no more than 10% by 2030, and even start an annual Mardi Gras-like parade in Melbourne themed around Autism.

I love almost everything about this, but am slightly dubious about the parade, because many of the autistic people I know don’t do so well in big crowds – too much sensory stimulation.  But the idea of doing something to celebrate autism sounds like an excellent idea to me.  (And I freely admit to not knowing all that much about Autism, so perhaps I’m completely barking up the wrong tree.)

Whitehill has four other policies, which I will just quote in full, because they are short.

  • Abolish out-of-school suspensions for bullies
  • Bully rehabilitation programs at schools
  • Tax people who own 3 or more residences
  • Crack down on youth crime, and investigate what drives children to crime and how this could be prevented

Whitehill has an FAQ page, which I recommend to your attention, because it’s pretty delightful.  I especially like the last question.

You do realise it’s never going to happen, right?

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.

And I hope he will continue to do so.

Overall, Chandra and Whitehill both look like people who belong high on my ticket.  Whitehill is currently looking like getting top billing, in fact – he just seems like an all-round lovely person, with some excellent policies.  Chandra also seems delightful, but it turns out that even I have my limits when it comes to open borders.  He’s still going to wind up in the top part of my ballot though – the category of ‘lovely, but maybe a little misguided’ usually scores well with me.

Eurovision Theme Song as determined by me, very objectively

The best independents are the ones who dream big and are full of idealism and a desire to make the world a better place.  Chandra and Whitehill definitely fall into this category.  Which means they get the song I’ve been reserving for my favourite independents of this election season.

He said go dry your eyes
And live your life like there is no tomorrow son
And tell the others
To go sing it like a hummingbird
The greatest anthem ever heard
We are the heroes of our time

I wish them both the best of luck.  I’m really glad to see people like this on my ballot.

9 thoughts on “Federal Election 2019: Meet Sunny Chandra and Robert Whitehill

  1. I like him, but even after just skimming his pdf, I have a number of questions about it. Love to sit down with him for an hour or two and argue about it 🙂

  2. Hi Cate,
    Autistic Pride celebrations are actually already a thing in some parts of the world. Though the set-ups look more sensory friendly than Mardi Gras, e.g. have seen videos of one set in a park somewhere in England.

    • Oh, that’s cool! I didn’t know that. I must admit, I was thinking of my experience with Mardi Gras, which is limited because while I’m not autistic, I find big crowds and lots of noise kind of overwhelming and awful, and wondering how anyone with sensory issues could possibly cope.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.