‘Liberals lost, but Labor did not win’: Former MP Gladys Liu reflects on the past three years

With the Victorian electorate of Chisholm undergoing a 7.4 per cent swing towards the Australian Labor Party (ALP), former Liberal MP in the seat, Gladys Liu, reflects on this year’s federal election that “rewrote Australian politics”.

Conceding defeat to Labor’s Carina Garland on Monday, Ms Liu said it had been her life’s greatest honour and privilege to represent the eastern Melbourne community.

“I have always felt that our community is a special place. In large part, this is because of the incredible people that choose to make it their home,” she said in a .

For her, the greatest surprise in this year’s election was the big increase of primary votes that independent candidates were able to secure, she said.

“The biggest surprise was that independents received more than 30 per cent of the primary vote, which was by far more than what some politicians, researchers and analysts had predicted,” she told SBS Cantonese in an exclusive interview after she conceded.

“It is undeniable that Liberals lost in this election but the number of [primary] votes going to the Labor Party did not increase. It was a loss by the Liberals, but not a win for Labor,” Ms Liu said.

“This election was an unprecedented one that rewrote Australian politics. I respect the election result and the choice of the Australians.”

As of Thursday evening, the Labor Party had received approximately 32.8 per cent of the primary vote, falling short of last election’s 33.3 per cent.

When asked about what she thought the main reasons for the failed election campaign were, the former MP said many voters considered it was a time for a change after the Liberal Party had governed for nine consecutive years.

“It’s like some people tend to change their curtains after a few years,” Ms Liu said, before adding that she thought COVID-19 restrictions had played a role in swaying voters’ decisions.

“The prolonged lockdown had created immense difficulties for a lot of Australians, even affecting the mental health for some,” she said.

“This created some strong resentment towards the federal government, although public health orders are matters dealt with by state and territory governments.”

Ms Liu then said the Coalition had also lost support from many voters due to their climate policy, which was one of the mostly debated issues in the lead-up to this year’s election.

“Some candidates have called for a more progressive approach in terms of emission targets, while [the Coalition] who wanted to be responsible and aimed to strike a balance between economic impact and climate change was seen as falling behind,” she explained.

She said she also blamed the loss on the barriers for some communities from non-English speaking backgrounds to receive “correct” information on different parties’ policies.

Chinese voters voting against the Coalition

Many Chinese Australians have expressed their dissatisfaction towards the former Coalition government for taking a strong stance against China, which .

Ms Liu said she understood the negative sentiments of the community when they heard their country of origin that they still felt affection for being constantly targeted by the Australian government.

“I understand that migrants with Chinese backgrounds would feel affectionate towards their country of origin. When they hear their own country being targeted, it is understandable that they might feel emotionally unsettled,” she told SBS Cantonese.

“The Prime Minister and other ministers, as well as myself, have numerously reiterated that the government wasn’t calling out China as a country or its people, neither was it targeting the Chinese community in Australia. Rather, the target was on the Chinese Government.

“However, the message wasn’t clear enough. Whenever the Government talked about the issue, we only used the word ‘China’.”

A lot of Chinese Australians voted against the Coalition because of this, which Ms Liu described as voting decisions made “emotionally rather than rationally”.

When asked about former Defence Minister Peter Dutton as being the most probable candidate to be elected as the new leader of the Liberal Party, Ms Liu said it is up to the re-elected Liberal MPs to decide which person should lead the party forward.

“I’ve known Peter Dutton for years, well before I was elected. I think he is an upright person, who places national interest as his top priority,” Ms Liu said.

“He also understands that, to protect our national interest, it is essential to ensure Australia’s national safety is protected.

“Of course, he should be aware of his use of words, in order to avoid recommitting previous mistakes.”

Three years of service as a parliamentarian

Addressing the criticisms that she had not delivered what she promised leading up to the 2019 election, Ms Liu said the COVID-19 pandemic had prevented her from carrying out some of her initiatives.

“I spent the first six months learning the routine as a parliamentarian, meeting with different local grassroot organisations, and familiarising myself with my life and work at Parliament House,” she said.

“Six months later, the pandemic broke out in Australia. We had to shift our focus to helping the vulnerable, including the elderly who live alone, families with children with disabilities, small businesses, etc. What I had planned to do was forcibly delayed.”

Despite that, Ms Liu said she had done a lot of work in the electorate over the past three years.

“I have served in different Chinese community organisations, all based in Chisholm. I was also focused on encouraging Chinese Australians to partake actively in mainstream society, increasing their participation in different sports associations, charities, and social service groups,” Ms Liu said.

“I have always encouraged Chinese migrants in Australia to assimilate into mainstream society and to understand how the system works.

“Only if you understand, are you able to create change and even to represent your community in the parliament.”

Ms Liu said that having been the first, female, Chinese Australian federal MP herself, she was pleased to see three, new parliamentarians with Asian backgrounds being elected at the May 21 poll.

“Regardless of which party they belong to or whether they are independents or not, this is a great step forward for Chinese Australians and Asian Australians to be involved in politics and more broadly, the mainstream society,” Ms Liu said.

“It is no longer the case where it doesn’t matter whether or not there are Chinese or Asian representatives in the parliament. This has changed.

“Chinese Australians are now relevant [to the broader Australian society].”

Moving forward, without the resources that come with the office, Ms Liu said it would be difficult for her to approach the community in the same way as she had done over the past three years.

“Even with limited resources, I will continue talking to the community as much as I can,” she said.

“I was hoping to gradually resume the initiatives I proposed three years ago when restrictions eased. I hope the newly elected MP will carry on what I have planned.”

7 min read
Published 27 May 2022 at 8:25am
By Winmas Yu, Thomas Sung