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Why this young lawyer stood for Parliament

Federal politics is in serious need of a moral compass, says this human rights activist and lawyer. It’s why she recently ran as an independent in the 2022 federal election.

user iconLauren Croft and Jerome Doraisamy 30 May 2022 Politics
Why this young lawyer stood for Parliament
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Sheneli Dona (pictured) is the founder and chief executive of The Dona Faith, an NFP human rights organisation based in Australia. She is also a task force member of the United Nations Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development Working Group and adviser to the Beijing+25 Advisory Group Working Group (UN Women).

Most recently, she was also a candidate in the federal election, in which she ran as an independent in the Hume electorate – which was ultimately retained by Liberal MP Angus Taylor.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly about why she wanted to nominate for Federal Parliament, Ms Dona reflected that she “initially despised” the idea of entering politics.


She felt this way, she explained, because politics has “so viciously become a means of enforcing personal agendas”.

“As a human rights activist fighting for the needs/rights of people nationally and internationally, I was always clashing with government and politicians. However, the idea that the protection of the rights and interests of our citizens all depend on the handful of people in Parliament made me rethink my preconceptions and the need for representatives that endorse a moral compass in politics. That’s why I decided to run,” she submitted.

“We desperately lack a moral compass in politics,” she added, and she feels the need to restore this.

There are many things that need to change, Ms Dona went on, “but I believe we need to revisit the basics of democracy, that is representation”.

“Our representatives need to move away from other overriding agendas and focus purely on citizen-centric processes. This is the backbone to democracy. For some reason, politics is viewed as some sort of man-made ‘monster’ with exaggerated tentacles. That is why a study had shown that more than 48 per cent of our population had lost trust in the government and/or their representatives. This is very concerning and this vicious pattern must change,” she submitted.

In her own electorate of Hume – a division in NSW’s south-east – Ms Dona remains concerned about what she says is a lack of community consultation and citizen-centric processes.

“This has largely impacted my electorate overtime and is the reason that our constituents are frustrated,” she said.

“Being a human rights advisor, one thing that we have to understand, especially those in the legal profession, is that our constitution has implied and expressed rights. However, it is essentially up to legislation to protect and enforce the rights and freedoms of our citizens. Therefore, it is important that we elect the right people into Parliament and hold them to account the moment rights are being compromised.”

Ms Dona ran on a platform of “honest, open and transparent politics”, through which she aimed to “restore a moral compass into politics”. She stood as a fully self-funded independent, she added, so as to ensure “that I withstand any form of bias attached with donations, and have not assigned any preferences to anyone else”.

She was also, she went on, the first person of colour to contest for the seat of Hume, proving that “one does not need to be a certain gender, race, age or from a certain level of education to walk in the halls of Parliament”, she proclaimed.

“I have set the precedent for progress in the Hume and I am confident that there will be more individuals who will come forward in response to diversity. To me, this is more than winning, this is about utilising this platform to highlight the issues in our electorate, and I will be enforcing our policies by knocking on the door of the incoming representative and holding them to account on behalf of our electorate,” she espoused.

“I am not blue. I am not red, and I am not green. I am Lilac. I am progress, honesty, transparency and justice.”

While Mr Taylor ultimately retained the seat, Ms Dona noted that the issues she is most focused on – including “greater respect and diversity in our Parliament; greater investment and reforms in the aged care and healthcare sector; a sustainable future without impacting the livelihood and job security of our citizens; and greater investment in infrastructure to maximise local economic growth and opportunities” – remain challenges that young lawyers across the country can and must look to address.

“I would highly advise young lawyers to walk into the profession with the passion to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens, because we are in desperate need of accountability in Parliament. But also, to use your profession and skills to be of service to the community,” she advised.

“As a lawyer (non-practicing), I believe there are two types of lawyers. There are lawyers that have walked into the profession for the materialistic benefits that it provides. The other is a lawyer that has walked into the profession to serve and protect the people.

“Choose who you want to be. We need a new generation of young lawyers with a moral compass as well.”