Persistence Pays Off Down Under

By June Ramli

It was an unexpected decision for Priya Shanmuganathan to stay back in Melbourne, Australia after completing her Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) at Deakin University.

But the desire to make it Down Under and to prove to oneself got the best of her.

The native KL-lite has been in the country since 2009 but she recalled the first time she was trying to look for a job before landing a career in the Australian government.

As most migrants will tell you, the experience can be daunting, to say the very least.

“The first job was a bit of a struggle to get,” she told in an interview, recently.

Priya Shanmuganathan
Priya Shanmuganathan. Photo: Supplied.

After months of searching, she finally landed a job but only as a casual employee with the Australian education union and decided to take it despite not having any prior experience in the role.

“In Malaysia, I was working as a brand manager for an American fast food outlet and I was holding an MBA.

“People here get surprised when I tell them my qualifications and they would say, oh my god, you’ve studied so much!” she said.

But despite her MBA coupled with her stellar work experience from her home country, Priya failed to find suitable employment in Australia which came as no surprise.

“It was really hard for me to get similar employment to what I was doing in my home country because such roles are only reserved for the locals,” she explained.

She said the union job came at a time when the movement was looking to diversify its workforce.

“The union movement in Australia was looking for a diverse group of people to employ as they were a new flow of workers from other countries that didn’t identify with unionism.”

And that is how Priya landed her first break.

She excelled in her job and in four short months, she was promoted as a team leader.

But unfortunately for her that employment ended abruptly as the company had gone into insolvency. 

“I then got another contract with NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union), which is the unions for universities in Australia before moving on to two other union movements in community and finance.

“These jobs paved the way for me in landing my current role as an NDIS (National Disability Insurance Scheme) support coordinator which I have since turned into my own business since 2019.” 

Today, Priya earns a paycheck through her work rendered with the NDIS, a scheme that only a handful of countries have.

The NDIS is a scheme that serves the disabled and those suffering from mental health. 

One will need to be registered under the NDIS scheme or work with someone with the registration to provide such support to the disadvantaged.

“My business partner has 30 years of experience working with the disabled.

“When I first started, the first six months, I was working non-stop, during all my waking hours,” she said.

Explaining further, Priya said she got acquainted with the business idea while she was working as a union organiser for the health and the community sector.

And the rest was history. 

“I decided to take the plunge and thankfully it worked out for me,” she said.

The NDIS is fully funded by Australian taxpayers through the Medicare levy.  

Coordinators such as Priya would then implement the support required for those suffering from physical and mental disabilities.

Priya who has 23 clients to date said many of them were referred to her through word of mouth and her soliciting clients firsthand.

She said the funding for each client depended on the amount that was needed to help them live a normal life despite their disabilities.

“My business has gone to a level that I didn’t expect,” she explained.

She said she has been really busy of late so much so she has employed five workers to support her growth.

Priya was full of praise for the scheme which started in Australia five years ago.

“It is a good industry to be in as there are a lot of work opportunities.”

She said in Australia alone, there were close to 400,000 people that needed such services, which included those who suffered from autism and cerebral palsy.

“This is really difficult work to do. I sometimes have people in jail that I need to deal with and provide support.

“Random things happen all the time and I am constantly working. Some days can be very stressful,” she said. 

But in 12 years, Priya believes that all the struggles she had endured with precarious employment had paid off.

“Both the union and the NDIS do not exist in Malaysia, and when I tell people what I am doing, they would say, oh my god, so nice, we should move to Australia too.

“I don’t regret moving here and I believe this country will reward you for your struggles if you are persistent.”

To contact this reporter, email

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