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Federal Parliament moving backwards in promoting better representation of Asian Australians

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.

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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.



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  1. bobrafto

    There was a Chinese QLD state politician in the LNP not so long ago. It was like looking at hen’s teeth.

    If you want to succeed the main criteria is to hone up the ahole skills, borrow a leaf or 2 from the LNP and ALP playbooks, find a branch of your choice and stack it with your followers.

  2. Ross Cornwill

    Bob as a long time member of the ALP I have never met a Chinese Comrade. Does this count I wonder.

  3. diannaart

    How many politicians, past and current, are brilliant heart surgeons?

  4. Gangey1959

    Would Victor Chang have made it in politics? Probably not. His comments prove just how lacking in class and style ruddock was/is.
    That is not really the point though, is it.
    If anyone wants to get into politics, for whatever reasons, they find a way. Most of us look at who is there now, or who we went to uni/work with, and think ”WTF are they doing there ? They were a dickhead back thenand are a dickhead now. I should have done what I always thought of and gone into politics myself.”
    It seems to me Erin that you are asking for a footstep up for your forebears just because of numbers. On that basis we should have # 18-25 unemployed, # women, # indigenous etc. In my honest opinion Parliament would work far better for ALL Australians on that basis, but can you see the average Australian-born welleducatedmalereligioustoatleastsomedegreeandcertainlybetteroffthantherestofthepopulation
    andquitehappytoridethegravytrainnowthati’monitthanksverymuch stepping down to allow for a more balanced view from the leather seats?
    Nor can I.
    Personally, ALL of Australia’s politicians MUST be born here, but that’s just MY opinion. One step down from that, ALL MINISTERS should be born here, but parliamentarians can be Naturalised Australians. (As long as they can prove it on request, ay tony)
    The only way that anyone else is going to get into Canberra, or state politics, is by working at it, and utilising the Bobrafto method above, same as always. It’s a bullshit system, but until the revolution comes it’s what we’ve got, so stop whining and go for it.

  5. helvityni

    Penny Wong is one of our best politicians, and she is at least half Chinese.

    How many politicians does Oz have of Dutch, German ,Italian, Lebanese etc, background?

    We now .finally, have one Muslim amongst all the Christians, Mrs Ali, whose background is Egyptian.

    Cormann from Belgium is a rarity, as is Plibersek, who is Slovenian, Ciobo (the name) sounds Italian, Abetz is of German origins, Mirabella and Xenophon are Greek, I can’t recall their names but there is one from Serbia, and one from Croatia….Anna , the Queensland Premier has Polish ancestry….

    All in all, not many.

  6. helvityni

    I don’t know where those above mentioned politicians with foreign names are born, in Oz or in their parents homelands…

  7. helvityni

    How could I forget about Albanese, who has an Italian father. I also remembered the name of the Serbian bloke, Nikolic, and of course our charming Queenslander of Danish cane-cutter background, Christensen, and not forget our Swedish aristocrat, Leyonhjelm…

  8. kerri

    Your point regarding Ruddock’s charge “are you Victor Chang?” Also raises his age and ignorance regarding appropriate political candidates! Years ago my dad described Barry Jones as the ideal PM. I disagreed. Barry is a great and undoubtedly intelligent person whom I respect without exception, however, that does not make him an appropriate PM as Victor Chang’s undeniable expertise as a surgeon did not make him an appropriate choice for politics. Clearly the LNP though Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull as appropriate people to run the country which, as we are all experiencing, is proving to be ill founded faith. A good orator, sledger, even a Rhodes Scholar does not a good PM make!
    But absolutely if you are a migrant either asian, arab, or from the Indian subcontinent, you clearly need to prove you are more than better than the average whitey.
    Given the idiot in the war zone Wyatt Roy, the “larger than life” Christensen, the “I need my adenoids done” Tasmanian imbecile Abetz and the tallest pile of self interest and contempt for humanity Bernardi show the LNP criteria for suitability to be in parliament let alone lead to be seriously lacking.
    I too was disappointed with the treatment of Lisa Singh and applaud her tenacity and clear ability to connect with her electorate. She has the dual edged sword to battle. Asian and female.

  9. Phil

    Why do we refer to ‘Asian Australians’ rather than to Australians with Asian background? In fact why make any distinction as to place or continent of origin, or parentage – why are not all Australians simply referred to as Australians?

    I ask because it seems we rarely hear reference to ‘anglo or caucasian Australians’, which, if we were being consistent would be the relative term. Australia does seem to have a fixation with labelling certain characteristics/origins in some of its citizens. Why are people from anglo/caucasian backgrounds simply called Australians whereas those with non anglo/caucasian get an additional background signifier?

    Is this some left over from the old white Australia days? Is it a dog whistle to reinforce that some Australians feel they more ‘Australian’ than others? Fits neatly with the Pauline view.

  10. mark

    british australians ,haven’t advanced australia one iota.Nor any other race that has kept to it’s own breed.mark

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