Venus Priest, community member and aspiring politician
Successful store owner one day, aspiring politician the next, Venus Priest hopes to help the Filipino community by entering the inner sanctum of Australian politics. MICHELLE BALTAZAR writes.
Everybody loves the underdog. If the last federal election was anything to go by, you could say that Venus Priest, the Liberal Party candidate for the Chifley electorate, is the penultimate underdog in recent election history.
For a start, the electoral division of Chifley is one of the safest Labor seats in the country. The Labor party won every federal election in this division since 1969. Second, Priest wasn’t the first choice to run for the post. She received the surprise phone call within weeks of the 21 August election after the party dumped their original choice, David Barker. He allegedly made inappropriate religious comments against Ed Husic, the Labor Party candidate and Muslim.
With less than four weeks to campaign, Priest had to rely on word-of-mouth to garner votes. While new to politics, Priest is not an unknown among the Filipino locals. She is an active community member and has been involved with various Filipino organisations including FAME, ILISA and Banag Banag.
What Priest lacked in political experience, she made up for in perseverance. It also worked in her favour that the Chifley electorate is not just a Labor heartland but a Filipino one. The 21 suburbs – Blackett, Blacktown, Dharruk, Doonside, Eastern Creek, Emerton, Glendenning, Hassall Grove, Hebersham, Lethbridge Park, Minchinbury, Mount Druitt, Plumpton, Rooty Hill, St Marys, Shalvey, Shanes Park, Tregear, Whalan, Willmot and Woodcroft – happen to be the suburbs where many Filipino-Australians live.
After the votes were counted, Ed Husic emerged the winner with more than 40,000 votes. But what was surprising was that ‘underdog’ Priest pulled a spectacular 24,000-plus votes: a miraculous feat given the circumstances.
That’s why Priest said the election is just a stepping stone to a permanent role in politics.
“That was a very good result. I want to thank the Filipino community because they’ve given me enormous support – more than you could imagine. That really lifted my fighting spirit to continue regardless [of the last election results],” she said.
Born in Iligan City in Lanao del Norte, Priest said she’s always been eager to help other people and counts the late former president Corazon Aquino and the late Lady Diana (Princess of Wales) among her idols.
Growing up, she’s always been involved in community activities and completed a nursing degree in the Philippines. In Australia, she completed accounting and business management courses before setting up her own business, a grocery store in Hassall Grove frequented by the Filipino locals.
Venus Priest and Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott
Outside work and community events, Priest is an anti-drug campaigner and mental health advocate, recently setting up the Australian Drug Outburst Control Association (ADOCA) to provide education for drug users and their families.
“My background is nursing and, if elected, I will be pushing for increased funding to make Blacktown Hospital and Mt. Druitt Hospital fully functional,” she said.
Mental health services is also on top of her priority list. “Millions of Australians will suffer mental illness yet only a third of sufferers receive help from the health services. Mental health needs serious attention.”
It’s going to be a long wait until the next election, unless Australia has another major political upset. But that would only give Priest more time to prepare her platform and policies all in the name of better services for her fellow Filipino-Australians and her local community.