Parliamentary speeches

#UnityOverFear during COVID-19

June 10, 2020

I rise to bring to this parliament a statement in support of unity over fear—a petition signed by over 80,000 Australians—and to associate myself with its call to say no to racism against Asian Australians, to say no to racism and to encourage all members and senators to join me. I pay tribute to the organisers: Jason Yat-sen Li, Dr John Yu AC, Benjamin Law, Su-Ming Wong, Tony Ayres, Annette Shun Wah, Albert Tse, Albert Wong AM, Adam Liaw, Benjamin Chow AO, Wesa Chau, William Yang, Brad Chan, Jieh-Yung Lo, Claudia Chan Shaw and Dr Cindy Pan. Thank you. Your leadership matters. It has brought people together, shone a light and delivered a powerful call to action. Tonight, I bring this to Australia's parliament for those of us who have the privilege to represent our fellow Australians to respond to. I also thank everyone who signed the petition and demonstrated their solidarity with this just and pressing cause. I acknowledge, in particular, those who shared their stories, bravely and generously, and made clear what racism is and what it does. Racism hurts people, damages lives and diminishes us all. Its effects are both obvious and insidious. We need to stop the physical and verbal abuse but also recognise that the continued existence of racism shapes how people live their lives, denies opportunities and confines even the places people feel safe in visiting. I seek leave to table a copy of the document containing the petition.

– The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Has the petition been approved by the Petitions Committee? 

Mr Giles: It has not.

– The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Is leave granted for the document to be presented?

Mr Morton: Leave is not granted. The member knows full well this is not the appropriate opportunity to be tabling such a document. 

Mr Giles: That is disappointing. I hope that the document will be tabled in the Senate by Senator Bragg. I thank him for seeking to do so and for taking a stand against racism. It is critical that we strive for bipartisanship when it comes to confronting the scourge that is racism. It is critical that our parliament unites in standing up for multiculturalism and for every Australian, that we recognise that Chinese Australians have been subjected to awful and shocking racism through the pandemic, and that we respond to this without equivocation. I hope that the way in which the petition is presented to the parliament can go some way towards this. This evening we can start the process of recognising as a national parliament that ending racism is a national responsibility and that, when we say we're all in this together, we mean it. Australia is a successful multicultural society and the vast majority of Australians abhor racism, but we can't take this for granted.

As the petition states, in the course of the pandemic we have seen racism on the rise, violent assaults on Asian Australians, abuse in the streets and on public transport, offensive graffiti and more. The data we have from the Human Rights Commission and Anti-Discrimination New South Wales—we should have better data—shows that COVID-19 has driven a spike in complaints. This is echoed in the work of Being Asian Australian and the Asian Australian Alliance, whose survey has identified nearly 400 incidents since April targeting Chinese Australians. Disturbingly, this also found that the vast majority of these were not reported to the police. I recognise the role of my friend Osmond Chiu in this survey.

This is a threat to our social cohesion and our national unity. It demands an unambiguous response: that all of us in leadership positions make clear our opposition to racism and our solidarity with Asian Australians. Working towards bipartisanship means supporting a common goal: confronting and defeating racism and striving in good faith, as we are, to achieve it. How we do so will no doubt involve some disagreements along the way. Let me be clear: I won't rest until we have committed to a national strategy to tackle racism.

I'm proud to serve as Labor's multicultural affairs spokesperson and to have the chance to contribute to debate on modern Australia's greatest achievement, our multiculturalism, to highlight the enormous benefits our diversity has brought to us and to work to ensure that this diversity is reflected fairly in all the places that matter, including this place, of course, which needs to look much more like our society today. We can't ignore racism or its consequences. The Unity Over Fear petition is a powerful statement. It demands an equally powerful response. As the events of the weekend have demonstrated, fighting racism is everyone's business. Where we see it, we must call it out. We must recognise the damage it does and recognise our collective responsibility to end this. Racism stops with us.