At the 2014 State Election, Dana Wortley was elected to the South Australian Parliament as the Member for Torrens. Married to the Hon. Russell Wortley MLC, President of the Legislative Council, Dana served six years as a Senator in the Australian Parliament.
Today Dana is a familiar face at Indian cultural events from Diwali celebrations, to Melas, festivals and auspicious occasions.
Whether it’s speaking on stage, welcoming new citizens at the Port Adelaide and Enfield Council citizenship ceremonies, tossing the coin at the Gujarati Stars cricket game, showing community members through Parliament House as her guests, attending dance, musical and arts exhibitions or participating in a sporting event such as the Sikh Mela, Dana has embraced learning about Indian culture and traditions.
Her electorate office at Gilles Plains is known to many in the community who have sought her assistance with individual and collective issues.
In an interview with Indus Age, Dana spoke about politics, family, her vision for the future and the work she is doing in her electorate of Torrens with the South Australian Indian Community.
How did you become involved in politics?
I joined the Australian Labor Party while I was still at university because I believed in its policies including those that addressed social justice issues of equality of opportunity, access to high quality education at all levels.
Since then I’ve worked as a school teacher, editor of The Advertiser Newspaper education sections and head of the South Australian and Northern Territory Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance. In 2004 I was elected as a Senator of the Australian Parliament and in 2014 as the State Member for Torrens.
What are the important things in your life?
Family is so important and a family that demonstrates their support is priceless. That’s one of the things I love about the Australian Indian community. Parents and grandparents are greatly respected and in turn they stand behind their sons and daughters who have chosen to leave their birth land and make South Australia their new home, supporting them, particularly when there is a new baby in the family.
I was raised in a very close family of six children, however life changed when tragically at the age of four, my younger sister was hit by a car, suffering severe brain injury. For six years she lay in a hospital bed in a semi-coma, eventually dying from her injuries. The impact on our family was devastating and I learned at a young age that events, over which you have no control, change your life. I also learned that there is a need to put in place systems that provide support for families in crisis whether it is brought on through failing health, disability, unemployment, isolation, single parenting, educational disadvantage or the loss of a loved one.
So family, good health and the ability to help others are all important to me. Throughout my life I have worked for fairness, equality of opportunity, and supporting the concept of providing a hand up to those who need it.
What were some of the challenges and highlights as a Senator?
It was a great honor to represent the people of South Australia as a Senator for six years in the Australian Parliament. Spending so much time away from home flying to Canberra for fortnightly Parliamentary sittings brought its own challenges. Our son was only 8 years old at that time and within a matter of months of my term beginning, Russell was elected as a Member of the Legislative Council in the State Parliament, so we were fortunate that we had the support of our parents and my sister.
In addition to parliamentary sittings there was a lot of committee work including Senate Inquiries. One of many that stand out is the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety that I chaired. In 2011 in my last week in Parliament I tabled a 600 hundred page report with recommendations, some of which have been adopted and others that I am still pursuing. The report included results of the largest on-line survey in the world of young people, in which 34,000 young Australians between the ages of 5 and 18 years responded. It provides an insight into the significance of social media on our young, now and into the future.
What do you do as a State Member of Parliament, for your electorate?
My electorate of Torrens in Adelaide’s North-East takes in a number of suburbs including Northgate, Windsor Gardens, Hampstead Gardens, Northfield, Klemzig, Dernancourt, Gilles Plains, Greenacres, Holden Hill, Hope Valley, Oakden and Hillcrest. I regularly meet with constituents and community representatives who come to me with a diverse range of issues.
Torrens has a number of multicultural groups including a growing Indian community and I’ve come to understand the many difficulties some face leaving their birth land and family members behind looking for a better future here in Australia. It can be very lonely without community support, that’s why it’s so important to establish the cultural associations as the Indian community has done.
As a State MP I also assist community members in dealing with Government departments, answering queries and providing information on our laws and policies.
Often a constituent just wants to know the right process for doing something like applying for a grant, establishing a sport or other cultural organisations or securing a venue. My office also provides information on services available relating to citizenship, visas, neighbourhood disputes, domestic violence, local Government issues, housing and small businesses.
What message do you have for the wider Indian community?
Whether you’re from North or South India, when you make Australia your home you are immersed in Australian culture. You bring with you much of your own unique culture continuing to observe Indian festivals and celebrations; very happy occasions some of which I’ve been privileged to share in with you. There is even a brother and sister day, and in March there is Holi. My clothes still have the color marks of last years’ celebrations. I encourage the Indian community where appropriate to invite the broader Australian community to share in your festivals and celebrations. It was wonderful to see this occur at the Diwali Melain Klemzig in November last year.
An understanding of the old and the new contributes to making Australia such a wonderful tapestry of multiculturalism and will continue to do so in the future.
Last year the Weatherill State Government initiated the largest outgoing trade and business delegation to India and recently we hosted an incoming Indian business delegation. Building a strong relationship with India is important to South Australia.
Australia stands with other strong democracies working hard to defend and protect our hard fought freedoms for all who call Australia home.