Parliamentary speeches

Working together to tackle racism

June 15, 2020

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises:

(a) the significant contribution made by Chinese-Australians to Australia;

(b) that all people in Australia, regardless of their ethnicity, cultural or religious background, deserve to be respected in our society;

(c) that Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world and that Australia is strengthened by our diversity; and

(d) the important role our multicultural communities have played in stopping the spread of the coronavirus;

(2) notes that the COVID-19 crisis has seen a number of appalling racist attacks on Chinese-Australians;

(3) condemns these shocking racist attacks; and

(4) supports promoting a zero tolerance approach to racism in Australia.

Australia is the world's most successful multicultural society and the vast majority of Australians abhor racism, but this cannot mean ignoring it when it happens. On the contrary, those of us who believe in our multiculturalism must be prepared to fight for it and show unequivocal leadership in standing up for our diversity, including through a zero-tolerance approach to racism. Right now, this is of particular importance, especially for the Chinese-Australian community. This crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, has affected everyone, but some have had to shoulder additional burdens—additional, unwarranted and unacceptable burdens: racist taunts, vilification and even physical assaults. Rejecting racism is everyone's business and it has to be a bipartisan concern. While there may be differences in how we work to achieve this objective, let us make clear in this place today that we share it and that our parliament is committed to tackling racism. I am pleased to move a bipartisan motion today supporting the Chinese-Australian community. I thank the member for Reid for agreeing to second this motion. I look forward to her contribution.

I acknowledge, too, Minister Tudge and the dialogue that we have enjoyed in bringing this motion before the chamber, in putting before the parliament a clear statement expressing our shared solidarity and our shared resolve: our solidarity with members of the community who feel threatened and singled out because of who they are or how they appear; our resolve to secure a society in which everyone is afforded respect and everyone is able to fully contribute, absent discrimination—a society where our diversity is not only celebrated but harnessed. Racism threatens this and it undermines our social cohesion. It's important that we recognise the extraordinary contribution of Chinese Australians to our nation, including through the pandemic, where community leaders have come together. It was the Chinese-Australian community that first felt the waves of this coronavirus crisis. They felt it affecting their communities before it affected the wider community. The leadership that they have shown is something that I am deeply appreciative of, and I'm sure all members who represent Chinese-Australian communities would share that sentiment.

The motion before the chamber makes clear that racism has increased during the course of the pandemic. We have to acknowledge this and the reports of the Human Rights Commission, Commissioner Tan, to this effect, amongst others, including civil society organisations, which have shown such leadership in holding unity and prioritising social cohesion through this challenge. We have to recognise too not just the numbers but the harm that these incidents have caused in themselves, directly and indirectly. I'm very concerned that people in our community feel unsafe and people have modified their behaviours. I want to bear witness to some of the conversations I have had with Chinese Australians and, indeed, Asian Australians not of Chinese ethnic background, who have told me about their anxiety, whether it's about catching public transport or even being in public places because of their fear of racism. This is something we have to unequivocally rule out. We have to work together to make sure that all of our spaces are equally open to people. We have to recognise that our social cohesion and our sense of unity is not something that we can ever take for granted, particularly when we read reports of right-wing extremists seeking to exploit anxiety and racism against Chinese Australians.

We also need to clearly distinguish between warranted criticisms of the Chinese government on the one hand and mistreatment of Chinese Australians on the other. Of course, Australia is a safe and welcoming place for international students. The cynical and exploitive posturing of that government, or elements of it, in recent days must be seen for what it is. We mustn't answer it with our words in this place but our actions. We must demonstrate, as more than 80,000 people have called for, unity over fear in our response to this. We must demonstrate our ability to listen when we talk about social cohesion, understand the impact of racism on people's lives and give voice to their experiences as we come together to build a stronger society.

I want to thank all members who are participating in this motion. I want to thank particularly the government members, because this does need to be a bipartisan concern. In tackling racism and adopting a zero tolerance to it, we commit to a shared objective. We will work together and sometimes have disagreements about how we get there, but today the parliament stands united in standing up for Chinese Australians and rejecting racism.