Will Chinese Australians Stand Up for Justice and Fairness, Again?


Chek Ling (林忠质)

In 1888 Lowe Kong MengCheong Cheok Hong and Louis Ah Moy took the moral high ground in The Chinese Question booklet.

They were ignored, of course.  It was the time.

A century later, in 1998, the Queensland Chinese Forum denounced the Queensland Liberal Party for its decision to preference Pauline Hanson One Nation Party at the forthcoming State Elections.  Our media release pointed out the moral failure of the Liberal Party – abandoning liberal values for short term political gain – and encouraged all Chinese Australians to withdraw support from the Libs.  It was a historical moment – we spoke up, on principle and on moral grounds.  The next evening the Liberal Party President wanted us to issue a joint media release to say that it was all a misunderstanding on our part!   We refused.  Subsequently the Libs lost 11 seats and with that the mandate to govern, for some years to come. But at the time the Chinese votes were far too few to have made a difference.

Now in 2023, the Chinese are 5% of the population.  We are said to have flipped a few seats from the unlovable Morrison government in the 2022 Federal Elections.

In his NO calculus Peter Dutton seems to have taken the same politically expedient route as the Queensland Liberal Party had done in 1998. The Libs knew then that the small number of Chinese and Vietnamese votes in Queensland would not make any difference at the ballot box. In 2023 the calculus seems to have been that a referendum not supported by both sides of the Parliament would have little chance of succeeding. Dan Tehan, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, recently more or less leaked that calculus on ABC Q&A. Plumping for NO could transpire to be the only chance for Dutton, handed the poisoned chalice, to land a body blow on his opponent, Prime Minister Albanese, before the next Federal Elections in 2025.

But will the Chinese take the moral high ground on 14th October, to allow the heirs of the original inhabitants of this land a gentle voice towards the restitution of past injustices inflicted upon them? And allow them a chance to choose their paths to a better future?

The signs are not great. There is a bright spark in Victoria, though.  Two Chinese organisations have publicly promoted YES –  the Chinese Museum and CCCAV. Elsewhere it is a becalmed tepid sea.

Are too many latter-day Chinese Aussies still afflicted with the middleman mentality?

In 1984, at the height of Blainey’s campaign against Asian immigration, a Malaya-born Chinese doctor rang me from his Gold Coast residence one Sunday afternoon: “You know, Blainey’s right. We don’t want too many Asians coming here. They would drag down our status!”

I hope Chinese Australians today would feel much more confident about standing up for what is morally right, in this, the homeland of their heirs.

Back in 1984 the huayi, born and bred in the ex-colonies of South East Asia, who constituted most of the Chinese in Australia, were often ambivalent about their place in Oz, despite the umbrella of multiculturalism, and despite their material and professional status.  You see, their forbears did so well as compradors to the White colonial masters in Malaya and elsewhere. Hear no evil, do no evil, speak no evil! That epigenetic heritage of the “colonised mind” must be so hard to overcome.

The huayi now constitute barely half of the Chinese Aussies. And in between times, their children have largely discarded the colonial baggage that their parents brought with them from Asia.

Therein I see a glimmer of hope.

In addition, the PRC immigrants seem more liberated!  A few of them have taken serious interest in the original inhabitants of this land. A number of these, artists, have lived amongst Aboriginal peoples to learn about their art and culture. These have produced paintings based on the two artistic traditions.

It’s a long bow. But the PRC settlers are now the predominant Chinese Australians.  I have a feeling that they will be unfettered to do what is morally right for the Voice Referendum.

I do hope that this homeland of my heirs does have a soul, and that our Parliament is not just a gladiatorial pit for the winner-take-all Two Party Preferred polity.

YES23. What a legacy that would be for future generations!

Expunge the original sin of our nation’s birth!

And begin a new journey to find a peaceful restitution to the heirs of the original inhabitants of this land.

Is that too much to ask?

Author: Chek Ling

Chek Ling arrived in Melbourne in 1962, on a Colombo Plan scholarship, to study electrical engineering. He never left. He has been an activist in the Chinese community since 1984.  In 1988 he was spokesperson for the Queensland Chinese Forum to denounce the State Liberal Party. He is the author of Plantings in a New Land, an oral history of the Chinese in Queensland, published in 2001 under the auspices of Centenary of Federation Queensland.