The first Vietnamese-origin mayor in Australia
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VietNamNet Bridge – At the age of 31, Mr. Nguyen Minh Sang became the mayor of a city of the state of Victoria. Sang is the first Asian who becomes a mayor in Australia. He is one of the first who have built the organization of the Vietnamese community in Victoria and turned it into a strong community in Australia.

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Mr. Nguyen Minh Sang (right) in the Vietnamese market in Footscray – Melbourne. 

He was born in Long Xuyen province, but Sang grew up in Saigon. Sang went to Australia with the family of his uncle when he was 17. That was 1977. At that time, there were only about 1,000 Vietnamese immigrants in Australia and Sang was one of the first Vietnamese settlers in Victoria.

Mr. Sang said it was a difficult time for all Vietnamese people because they were newcomers who were very weak at English and did not have a job.

"All of us were bare-handed, poor, lonely, and we did not prepare to integrate in the local community," Mr Sang said.

Sang himself also had to strive very hard. One of the first advantages that he had is the school allowances supplied by the Australian government. Sang spent all of the allowances that he was paid each 2 weeks in learning. The first thing was to learn English. Graduating from high school, he studied electrical engineering at the Swinburne school and information technology at the RMIT University.

One thing that haunted the boy named Sang in his first days in Australia is the Vietnamese community. Seeing other ethnic groups, immigrant communities in Australia that were formed in an organized way, Sang was inspired to do something similar. He wished to claim the local government’s assistance on study, language, healthcare, social welfare and employment to the Vietnamese community.

The first organized activity of Mr. Sang when he was a student is establishing the Vietnamese Student Association at the Swinburne school and then the Vietnamese Student Association in the state of Victoria. These were the first unions of the Vietnamese, with members as immigrated Vietnamese young people.

Sang’s jobs at the Center for the World's Migrants and the Indochina Community Council were also related to community and stable immigration.

A great plan was prepared - to campaign for the establishment of the Vietnamese community in the state of Victoria. This community was born in the late 80's and by far it is the largest organization of the Vietnamese community in Victoria.

But it seems just as the starting point because after that Sang began thinking of the bigger opportunity: to become the representative of the Vietnamese in the city and the state government. The biggest purpose of this is to facilitate the mobilization of the policies and interests of Vietnamese immigrants.

1988 was a significant year. Independent candidate Nguyen Thanh Sang, who is familiar with the name Sang Nguyen, was elected to the Representatives’ Council of Richmond City of Victoria State, at the age of 28.

The votes for Sang did not only come from Vietnamese voters, but also from other foreign communities living in Richmond. With the highest number of votes, according to the law, he was also elected as the Mayor.

"But then I refused, because I thought that I did not have much management experience. I chose the deputy mayor post to learn experience to until 1991, after I was elected again, I officially became the mayor of Richmond," Sang told VietNamNet.

Being elected for the two consecutive terms, Sang attracted the attention of the two largest political parties in Australia - the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. When he became the Mayor of Richmond, Mr. Sang received invitations from both parties to become their members. He chose the Labour Party. Since then, he continued to fight for the rights of the Vietnamese community, particularly in Victoria.

"There were debates that whether I should join which party to be able to represent to advocate for the rights of Vietnamese Australian voters. If the Liberal Party is for those who succeed in society such as intellectuals, doctors, engineers, the wealthy, the influential, the Labor Party is suitable with the communities with the low starting point like poor and disadvantaged Vietnamese. Up to 90 percent of the Vietnamese here were appropriate to the Labor Party. And I chose the Labor Party because I wanted to promote the interests of my community," Mr Sang said.


The bridge to Vietnam

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 The City of Richmond, where Mr. Sang was the Mayor for two terms. 

The opportunity came to Sang in 1993, when he worked as the assistant to the Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans.

"Looking back at the 90s, it was the period that Vietnam was still isolated, surrounded and under embargo. But I saw the opportunity when Australia had the goodwill to be the bridge between Vietnam and the West. Australia called the US for leaving the embargo on Vietnam. Minister Evans also lobbied to see a larger role of Vietnam after the war. That was the role of Vietnam in ASEAN - a key role in contributing to peace and stability of this block," Sang said.

The 3 years that Sang worked for the office of the Foreign Minister was also the period that Australia started promoting cooperation agreements with Vietnam.

He still remembered the visit to Hanoi in 1993, when he was an assistant to Minister Evans. "It was the trip to support Vietnam in international issues, not only for the issues of bilateral cooperation," he said.

Contributions to promote cooperation with Vietnam of Mr. Sang continued when he was elected by the Labor Party as the candidate running for a seat in the Victorian Parliament. From 1996 to 2006, he worked at the Committee for the Family and Community Development of the Congress of the state of Victoria. In addition to community issues, he also participated in the exchange and cooperation activities with delegations from Vietnam.

Sang joked that, if the Australian Parliament has the history of 112 years (established in 1901), he has been here for one third of that time. With 34 years living here, he not only witnessed the change of the Australian society from a nation of 13 million people to 23 million people, but also the development of the Vietnamese community. And above all it is the closer connection between Australia and Vietnam.

"I have the experience to understand that only the positivity, both in thought and action, can improve distance. Vietnam has opened the country to change. Soon Vietnam will be as powerful as an Asian dragon. The thing I want to see is that Vietnam is a prosperous country with important position in the region and the world. Ultimately, all of these things will make people's lives better," he said.

From 2006 Mr. Sang has ceased political and diplomatic related works to become an advisor for Australian businesses that invest in Asia.

"Someday maybe I will return to the old job. But now my passion is work related to the business, not only in Asian countries. Any business that needs advice about Vietnam, I'm ready," he said.

Xuan Linh
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