Opinion

Growing Numbers Of AAPIs Have Been Elected Into US Politics, Is This A Reflection Point For Us Asian Australians?

Having watched the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) Biden/Harris Inaugural Ball on the eve of Inauguration Day, my heart was in flutters to see unity at play and to see all the AAPI’s elected into State and Federal politics. But more importantly, I was able to see Kamala Harris elected and inaugurated as the Vice President because she represents women, Asian and Black communities, and this is what embodies her.

As an Asian Australian watching this, it made me reflect on the poor representation in our political landscape, and when you think about it further, you can literally count on one hand how many Asian Australians have been elected on a national level. Granted, there is possibly a handful more in state politics and yes there is many more in local politics, but in order to be a national voice and to be able to influence policy and legislation at a national level, there needs to be at least 2 – 3 handfuls more.

Policy researcher, Osmond Chiu wrote a paper for the China Matters Thinktank in February 2020 on this issue, found that only 4% of Australian federal MPs have non-European heritage. His paper was featured in a number of articles within the Australian mainstream media back in February 2020. Here is what was stated from the Sydney Morning Herald:

“This is embarrassing,” Mr Chiu writes, noting Asian-Australians alone comprise about 15 per cent of the population.

In contrast, 10 per cent of MPs who won seats in Britain’s recent election are from black and minority backgrounds, and New Zealand has almost 13 per cent of MPs of Pacific or Asian ethnicity.

Chiu suggests that a way to boost the numbers is to set a target to have at least 20% of candidates from culturally diverse backgrounds in winnable seats, with a stop put to pre-selections if no effort is is put into finding suitable candidates.

Image via Guardian Australia

This, I can agree with. For far too long we Asian Australians have been treated by Australian politics as nothing more than political donors, voters and for politicians to enjoy our food and cultural festivities. We have been overlooked as potential Senators and/or MPs, and a lot of that is because we are still perceived as the “other” and not seen as actual “Australians”. Racism comes into play in this and we have seen how institutional racism ( aka “bamboo ceiling”) has impacted on the advancement of Asian Australians into positions of leadership and power. In addition there has been growing instances of casual racism (COVID 19 racism and the “China debate”), where regular Australians have been emboldened to act on their hate, all because being “anti-China” is seen as normal behaviour.

More recently, we have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has bought out the worst in people with the racism. In a survey launched by the Asian Australian Alliance in collaboration with researcher Osmond Chiu in April 2020, showed that over 500 Asian Australians reported that they experienced some type of racism related to the pandemic. Add this to the anti-Chinese sentiments perpetuated by the mainstream media and the Australian Government, then it becomes a recipe of hate and intolerance, and unless we see adequate representation in our national political landscape this will only get worse.

The politicians of Asian background who are in Federal politics at the moment can be counted on one hand, and most if not all of them have been accused of being “something” in the court of public opinion – either being a China/CCP spy, or being told to “go back to Asia”. If there was more of us in Federal politics, we would be a stronger force and be able to not only represent Australia’s interests, but also be a powerful voice in Australian Parliament and talk about issues affecting our Asian Australian community. Until then, we need to continue to discuss this issue at a mainstream level, advocate, educate and spread awareness in both our own Asian Australian communities and within the mainstream Australian society.

As for me, I will continue to advocate on this and work hard to make the change, when we Asian Australians too can feel butterfly flutters seeing more of us in Federal politics!

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