By Erin Chew, Convener for the Asian Australian Alliance.
Monday the 8th February 2016, was meant to be a momentous occasion for The Hon. Phillip Ruddock – a veteran member of Parliament of 42 years announcing his retirement from politics and taking up a post as the Australia’s envoy for Human Rights to the United Nations. He appeared on Lateline, proudly affirming his career, and confidently responding to questions about the Liberal Party by journalist Emma Alberici. The final question was seeking his response on how he would feel if a woman was to replace him, and basically dismissing this question he delved straight into cultural diversity issue stating that:
”Some people come up to me and say you need to have more people from culturally diverse background. I am Chinese elect me to the Australian Parliament, and I ask them, are you Victor Chang?”
For someone who is a seasoned politician, you would expect him to have more tact when answering this type of question and what he is truly saying and what its intended meaning is. Clearly his true colours and in this case his white privilege shines through the veneer of his usual stoic, yet grandfather-like persona. Read into that comment and he is pretty much saying that the quality of Chinese Australians are not up to standard when it comes to running for Parliament, well unless they are as great as the late heart surgeon Victor Chang. So why it is that middle and older white men are able to stand without being held to these standards, but others who hail from a different cultural heritage, need to be recognised by the mainstream before they can run?
When Ruddock was a backbencher in the Hawke and Keating years in opposition, he rattled on and on that the rate of migration from Asia was way too high. This is quite interesting to note considering his electorate of Berowra in certain areas have quite a high concentration of Asian Australians calling Berowra their home.
Interestingly, in stark resemblance, the other side of politics is not any better. The Australian Labor Party, the traditional heartland of cultural diversity has also disappointed the Asian Australian community. As much as they will also wave the fanfare of wanting better representation and diversity in its ranks, it remains powerless when its factional warlords and union stalwarts get into the game, where cultural diversity becomes a distant voice in the background.
The relegation of Senator Lisa Singh was the start of the falling dominoes. From being relegated to the number six spot from number three, she ended up running a community and grassroots campaign, and won her Senate spot convincingly, no thanks to the ALP. The community pressure to save her political career raged on, with many communities and influential individuals voicing their disdain for these chain of events.
For a party who believes in the democratisation and fairer participation in its leadership, there has been no divine intervention by the ALP executive to maintain and live up to these values.
In a society where almost 10% are of Asian Australian heritage and for a community who have been in this country since the mid-1800s, there is still no recognition and opportunities to run for politics. Less than 0.8% of Australian Federal Parliamentarians hail from an Asian Australian background, and this is disappointing considering it is a growing community. Both political parties and the Australian political landscape are to blame for this, and things need to be changed at both an internal and at a mainstream community level.
The words of Phillip Ruddock, appear to be the words of many who are in Parliament that unless Asian Australians strive for the stars and become another Victor Chang, we will never be offered any more opportunities in Federal Parliament because all the community is good at is fundraising for political parties, becoming CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) language campaign volunteers and putting up huge events and festivities where the politicians become centrefold.