Youhorn, during your 23 years on Council you acted as a great ambassador for the city. You openly shared the details of your journey of arriving and settling in Australia as a refugee. This honesty sparked an important ‘rethink’ in how we view social cohesion and helped us develop a respectful pathway forward for all people in our city to feel valued and accepted, and enjoy a genuine sense of belonging. I would now like to read the key points from your letter under seal.
On behalf of Greater Dandenong City Council and its diverse communities, this letter of appreciation under Council seal is a record or your honourable contribution to the Greater Dandenong community as a Councillor which you embarked on in March 1997. For almost a quarter of a century you have tirelessly and impartially served the community as an elected member of Council, serving as Mayor in 2001, 2007, 2012, 2018 and briefly in 2019.
In 1982 you arrived in Australia as a refugee with your wife Uchchara and four children. Your resilient human ability to survive Cambodia’s ‘killing fields’ and the opportunities you welcomed whilst living at the Springvale Enterprise Hostel firmly positioned you to represent your community with empathy, honesty and humility. There are several success and heart-warming stories that really stand out during your Council years. Without a doubt, you have notably acted as a champion for diversity, challenging the system to ensure much needed change continues to deliver better choices and outcomes for Greater Dandenong and its residents, supporting your long-term vision where everyone matters.
In 1997 you created history as the first Cambodian-born Councillor to be elected in Australia and in 2001 you were sworn-in as Greater Dandenong’s first Asian Mayor, a true representation of our multicultural city. As mayor during 9/11, you brought together the Greater Dandenong Interfaith Council leaders to stand with residents and Muslim brothers and sisters to pray for peace, strength and healing. You became a dedicated HEP Hero, adding your voice to help raise awareness and fight discrimination against people living with hepatitis and liver disease.
Your leadership in forming a Local Government Mayoral Taskforce supporting People Seeking Asylum (which gained the support of more than 30 councils across Australia and created the Back your Neighbour campaign) strengthened Greater Dandenong’s commitment as a safe, inclusive community who welcomes all. You have been pivotal in Council’s growing partnerships with business and community groups such as SABA, SICMAA, CAV, SEMVAC and the many Temples that call Springvale home. One of your ceremonial roles as Mayor was to preside at citizenship ceremonies where over the years you have personally welcomed over 8,000 individuals as they became Australian citizens and made our city their home.
You have always been a strong advocate for human rights and have always put the welfare and needs of the community before your own while being a driving force in ensuring equal access to much needed services for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. You have fostered active participation and inclusion for all residents by instilling a sense of community cohesion.
You played a pivotal role in much of the city’s new infrastructure including the redevelopment of the Dandenong Market, the development of the State Volleyball Centre, Tatterson Park Pavilion, Noble Park Aquatic Centre, revitalisation of central Dandenong, Dandenong Wetlands, Dandenong Civic Centre and the one closest to your heart, the Springvale Community Hub. Your contribution to the development of the Springvale Shopping Precinct and Springvale Boulevard Project has seen Springvale evolve from what was once considered a ghost town to one of Melbourne’s renowned cultural destinations. It would be remiss of Council not to mention how you vigorously led the charge to remove parking meters in central Springvale!
In addition you have left an indelible mark on the many committees, community groups and organisations on which you represented Council, including but not limited to, the Interfaith Network, South East Community Links, Springvale Benevolent Society, the Family Violence Advisory Committee, Multicultural and People Seeking Asylum Advisory Committee, Springvale Major Projects Advisory Group, Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA).
Youhorn, your story is one of courage and compassion and you have touched the hearts of many. You have been a great friend and support to your fellow Councillors and a wonderful ambassador for our amazing city. Most importantly you have been an outstanding and loyal representative to your constituents.
On behalf of an extremely grateful Greater Dandenong community, Council wishes to acknowledge and thank you for your humility and leadership and your commitment to ensuring Council provides current and future generations a healthy, sustainable and harmonious city in which to live, work and visit. Your cultural knowledge, wisdom gained through lived experience and your respect for language, heritage and history together with your personal drive, hard work and determination will leave an honourable and lasting legacy on our great City. We wish you the very best for the future and are reassured knowing that you will continue to play an active role in our community.