Monday the 8th February 2016, was meant to be a momentous occasion for The Hon. Phillip Ruddock – a veteran member of Parliament of 42 years announcing his retirement from politics and taking up a post as the Australia’s envoy for Human Rights to the United Nations. He appeared on Lateline, proudly affirming his career, and confidently responding to questions about the Liberal party by journalist Emma Alberici. The final question was seeking his response on how he would feel if a woman was to replace him, and basically dismissing this question he delved straight into cultural diversity issue stating that:
” Some people come up to me and say you need to have more people from culturally diverse background, I am Chinese elect me to the Australian Parliament, and I ask them, are you Victor Chang?”
For someone who is a seasoned politician, you would expect him to have more tact when answering this type of question and what is he truly saying and what is its intended meaning. Clearly his true colours and in his case his white privilege shines through the veneer of his usual stoic, yet grandfather like persona. Read into that comment and he is pretty much saying that the quality of Chinese Australians are not up to standard when it comes to running for Parliament, well unless they are as great as the late heart surgeon Victor Chang. So why is it that middle and older white men are able to stand without being held to these standards, but others who hail from a different cultural heritage, need to be recognised by the mainstream before they can run?
When Ruddock was a backbencher in the Hawke and Keating years in opposition, he rattled on and on that the rate of migration from Asia was way too high. This is quite interesting to note considering his electorate of Berowra in certain areas have quite a high concentration of Asian Australians calling Berowra their home. Phillip Ruddock has also developed a reputation as an elder statesmen and earns a huge amount of respect among many Asian Australian communities. He has become a man of no substance, as he is ticks all the attendance lists of attending Asian cultural events, banquets and fundraisers, enjoying the fruits of these festivities, yet he shows no respect for the community in leading this country. Maybe, lion dances and Liberal party fundraising machines are all he sees that the Chinese Australian community is good for. His words speaks volumes as to the general mindset of him and other members of the Government and the Liberal Party at large.
Interestingly, in stark resemblance, the other side of politics is not any better. The Australian Labor Party, the traditional heartland of cultural diversity has also disappointed the Asian Australian community. As much as they will also wave the fanfare of wanting better representation and diversity in its ranks, it remains powerless when its factional warlords and union stalwarts get into the game, where cultural diversity becomes a distant voice in the background.
The relegation of Senator Lisa Singh was the start of the falling dominoes. Lisa is a decorated senator, who also served in the ministry in a Labor led Tasmanian Government in 2006. She has an impeccable track record of standing for many causes in the areas of race discrimination, human rights, the arts and the environment, in some cases at odds with the Federal Labor caucus. She has also served as a Parliamentary Secretary and as a Shadow Parliamentary Secretary in these areas which she has stood for. But the Tasmanian Labor left faction decided that John Short, a union stalwart was a more suitable middle aged white man to put ahead of Indian Australian Singh, and all it took was a postal ballot. The community pressure to save her political career still rages on, with many communities and influential individuals voicing their disdain for these chain of events.
For a party who believes in the democratisation and fairer participation in its leadership, there has been no divine intervention by the ALP executive to maintain and live up to these values. The only thing ALP national executive Mark Butler could offer at a recent National Press Club address was his condolences and his pat on the back that Lisa has and is a great Senator.
But in Western Australia, the mechanics were reversed. Matt Keogh who ran as the Labor candidate for the Canning by-election and lost (during the time Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister), is now the candidate for the Federal election for the seat of Burt. In this case, the factional warlords supported Gosnells local Councillor Pierre Yang for the pre-selection ballot and he was tipped to be the candidate, when the ALP National Executive decided in this case to step in and install Matt a middle aged white man, over a Chinese Australian who also served in the Australian Defence Force.
And more recently, in Victoria, factional warlords have swarmed over the Federal seat of Chisholm with outgoing MP Anna Burke as the incumbent and who has decided to leave politics. Former Manningham Mayor and Councillor Jennifer Yang ran for the pre-selection ballot, only to be left out in the cold when the factions stepped in and installed Stefanie Perri as the candidate, in an electorate Labor holds by a margin of 1.6% with a population of 30% Asian Australian residing in the electorate. Where was the ALP National Executive in this instance, and where was the divine intervention to save Jennifer? It was okay to step in for Burt to ensure a middle aged white man was pre-selected, but not okay to save three Asian Australians, two women and one man who have contributed to Australian society and would make great candidates and representatives.
In a society where almost 10% are of Asian Australian heritage and for a community who have been in this country since the mid 1800s, there is still no recognition and opportunities to run for politics. Less than 0.8% of Australian Federal Parliamentarians hail from an Asian Australian background, and this is disappointing considering it is a growing community. Both political parties and the Australian political landscape are to blame for this, and things need to be changed at both an internal and at a mainstream community level.
The words of Phillip Ruddock, appear to be the words of many who are in Parliament that unless Asian Australians strive for the stars and become another Victor Chang, we will never be offered any more opportunities in Federal Parliament, because all the community is good at is fundraising for political parties, becoming CALD language campaign volunteers and putting up huge events and festivities where the politicians become centrefold.