Constituency Statement: Condemning Racism during COVID-19

  • May 12, 2020

During the course of the current COVID-19 crisis, we have seen our community step up and play its part in suppressing the spread of the virus. There is no better demonstration of this than the actions of the Australian Chinese community, be it in my own electorate or elsewhere across the nation. The Prime Minister has often mentioned the example the Australian Chinese community has set for us all. Just today, for example, he commented in the Great Hall during his public remarks at the start of the coalition party meeting:

One of the groups in our community here in Australia that was so important early on was the Chinese-Australian community … the responsibility, discipline, the support for each other, demonstrated by the Chinese-Australian community … the willing, enthusiastic, patriotic cooperation we had with the Chinese-Australians here was magnificent. And we owe them a great debt as a nation.

As soon as the crisis hit the 20,000-strong Chinese Australian community in my own electorate, they were the first to mobilise in practising heightened social distancing and personal hygiene measures to contain the spread. I attended two forums with leaders from the local Chinese Australian community before the lockdown came into effect, one which I organised in Chatswood and the other convened by the acting minister for immigration. The call to action from everyone who attended those was so impressive.

So it really does disappoint me enormously to have to rise in this chamber to raise and condemn the racism experienced by some in the Australian Chinese community during the course of this pandemic—yet it has been the reality, either through direct experience or through the generation of fear of its potential. This is not about expressing reasonable political or public policy views. In this country we enjoy very open discussions on the key issues of the day. For example, there is a very legitimate discussion being had about what we’ve learned from this pandemic and the need for a proper independent international inquiry and about the role of wildlife wet markets. We should never be reluctant to criticise foreign governments or political systems which represent the opposite of our own democratic values and understanding of human rights, including the Chinese Communist Party. That’s not what this is about.

Instead, I refer today to those who would seek to cause disrespect, hatred and contempt simply because of who a person is, their background or what we once described in that song I learned at school as their ‘creed or colour’. So I’ve been deeply disturbed to hear of cases in which Asian Australians were subjected to slurs, spitting, derogatory graffiti and, in some horrific cases, physical violence based solely on their appearance. The Australian Human Rights Commission has reported that one in four racial discrimination complaints they have received this year has been due to COVID-19 related activities. There are people on the fringes of society who have quite clearly used the cover of this virus and the anxiety we all feel to try to create fear and support for their own reprehensible views.

I want to be abundantly clear: racism has no place, no justification, in this country—not now during this crisis and not ever. At their core, such views offend the very basis of our liberal democracy, which is the equal value of every person, no matter what their background, and the equal respect we all deserve. It is from this foundation we have created the most successful multicultural nation on earth. Such behaviour from a loud but, I am very confident, tiny minority of society must be rejected. I am pleased that this has occurred across the political spectrum and tonight I add my own voice to those who have done so already. For example, last month the Prime Minister said:

I deplore that sort of behaviour against any Australian, regardless of their ethnicity or their religion or whatever it happens to be.

Last week, our colleague, the member for Chisholm, Gladys Liu, wrote so powerfully of the impact of attacks in The Age newspaper. She wrote:

Sadly, in the past couple of months, these Australians have been the victims of extraordinary acts of racism and abuse that simply cannot go unchecked in modern Australia.

As leaders of our community, we have an obligation to condemn racism. I commend the member for Chisholm in particular for her strong advocacy for the community on this issue. No Australian should ever feel as though their loyalty, their part of the Australian journey and their right to fully participate in every aspect of our society will ever be judged or determined by their ethnicity or heritage. Racism only flourishes when people of good faith stay silent, which is why tonight I proudly stand with those of Australian and Chinese heritage who have contributed so much to the advancement of our great nation.