ANTHONY PUN: The aftermath of the China Panic & its influence on a General Election

Sep 1, 2018

The China Panic has an unintended consequence of shaping the minds of the Chinese Australians and taught them how to be a strategic player in Australian politics. The monopoly held by the “Milking Cows”, and “Uncle Toms” in delivering votes to a political party would soon be over and the community will insist on being consulted.  There are several policies in the last 2 years which are unpopular with the Chinese Australian community and together with the China Panic, have filtered through social media to an extend that it can influence votes.  Despite a change of leadership, PM Morrison has to demonstrate by actions to soften those previous unpalatable policies to re-capture the votes otherwise the voters would return a Labor government by default.   What applies to the Chinese Australian community also generally applies to the multicultural communities.

The adverse effects of  the China Panic, as described by Professor Bob Carr and other scholarly articles in Pearls and Irritations, have etched the minds of 1.2 million Chinese Australian (CA).  The stress and trauma in putting them “through the wringer” is the second swipe against CAs where the first swipe was the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 (White Australia Policy) enacted just after federation.

In the first swipe, the Chinese settlers in Australia were quite helpless to defend such a racist policy as their number were low and there was no way to become united in countering the racist policy.  The experience of the early Chinese settlers has been transmitted to their descendants in Australia who are still waiting for an opportunity to get an Australian government apology.

Victoria’s Premier has apologised to the state’s Chinese community for the racism and unjust policies their ancestors endured during the gold rush era.  The Chinese Community Council of Australia (CCCA) through its foundation Secretary was involved in the process.

The second swipe started 2 years ago and the ability to respond to these adverse allegations in contemporary Australia is significantly different from the past.

Factors contributing to this difference include (i) the size of the CA population (1.2  million) despite its wide diaspora; (ii) the level of education in Australia (many with professional qualifications) (iii) the level of English proficiency; (iv) high level of social organisation skills; (v) participation in Australian politics; (vi) a rising China as a potential regional economic and military power; (vi) proliferation of Chinese media (print, radio & TV) and most importantly ;(vii) the high use of social media (WhatsApp & WeChat).

The social media has made CA extremely well informed about  Australian politics.  It has also increase their ability to receive and broadcast views on any subject thus, increasing their mutual influences among groups in their networks.  This enhancement ensured that any adverse allegations by any media outlet in Australia can be challenged and rebutted.

Of course, the next question to ask is what happens to these bits of adverse information stored in the minds of the CAs and how will they use these information to address or counter adverse stereotyping?

It is probable that these new found freedoms of expression with no restricted outlets is going to find its way into “votes” and when coupled with what can be learned from the Jewish community on political lobbying and political finances, the CA community voice will be loud.

The China Panic, indirectly, has helped the CA community to sharpen their decisions and become more strategic in influencing votes.  The days for “political milking cows” and: ”Uncles Tom” in monopolising the CA community vote is over and the CA community can insist on being consulted.

The CA community is also aware of what could cause another China Panic.  As long as the community sticks to Australian politics minus foreign influence, speaks on issues as an Australian and champion Australia’s interests, they should not attract “fear” from other Australians or allow shock jocks. racial politicians and fear mongers an excuse to rear its ugly head.

The CA community is not different from  other communities in Australia, and they reflect a  similar general voting pattern as the general public on major and minor parties .But there could be as much as 20% swing voters who may determine the outcome of a seat if those adverse policies perceived by the CA community are not addressed.  Sydney suburbs with high density of Chinese immigrants include Chatswood, Epping, Ryde, Hurstville, Campsie, Cabramatta, Kingsford & Cherrybrook and their ability to swing and cause electoral changes that could change governments.

Looking back at the policies of the Federal government in the last 2 years, these are the issues that are not popular with the CA voters:

  • Aged Parents visa (temporary, permanent and contributory);
  • English tests for citizenship;
  • Lack of government support on Multiculturalism;
  • Attack on Medibank;
  • Foreign Interference Bills; and
  • Deterioration of Australia-China relations

Prior to Liberal Party leadership challenge, the then PM Turnbull has made a conciliatory speech towards China at the University of NSW and now the bucket is with PM Morrison . But can he convince the CA community that all is well?

Although the above policies are adversely perceived, can PM Morrison calm the water and put new policies to soften the “right leaning” policy or would the 40 votes Dutton group has, oppose such move?

PM Morrison made a welcome statement that he would support multiculturalism, a change from his 2011 stand.  If he wants to convince the electorate that he is “fair-dinkum”, he needs to demonstrate by action of his intentions.  Otherwise, the adverse perception remains.

PM Morrison also has to demonstrate that his reshuffling on the “Immigration”  portfolio with Dutton as Home Affairs, Alan Tudge on Population and David Coleman as Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism meant a change in direction or a softening of the “too far right” policies of the past 2 years.  If the public perceives that Dutton is still in charge of a “super” ministry as before, then nothing has changed.  The promotion of David Coleman to the Multicultural portfolio is generally welcomed by the community and that does not mean Alan Tudge is not doing a good job.

The retirement of Julie Bishop is unfortunate as she was changing direction with the former PM Turnbull on Australia-China relations.  Marise Payne is a new comer to the job and it is hope she will do a good job for Australia.

Finally, a more independent Australian foreign policy without the complication of supporting US containment of China would be positive.  China is not the enemy or has territorial ambitions on Australia and the South Pacific; and she is our No 1 trading partner. Why go against mutual peace and prosperity for the region?

These are the hard decisions that the government has to consider if  it wants to retain government.  Labor has the upper hand at the moment without having to announce any critical policies and by sitting quietly, it will have a electoral win “thrust upon” it.

Most of the political issues affecting the CA community, similarly affect other diverse communities in Australia.  If the LNP does not issue order to steer “Port, half rudder” then predictably, there will be a new Captain on SS Australia.

Dr Anthony Pun, OAM, is the current National President of CCCA Inc. and Chair of the Muticultural Communities Council of NSW Inc.

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