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'Anti-China sentiment' a reason for low number of Chinese candidates in NSW, MP says

Labor MP Ernest Wong. Source: AAP

A small handful of candidates with Chinese heritage will contest seats at Saturday's NSW election, and one MP highlights why more leaders from that community don't raise their hands.

Outgoing Labor MP Ernest Wong told SBS Cantonese that "anti-China sentiment" within Australia and other "barricades" were among the reasons stopping leaders from the Chinese community from considering careers in politics.

On election day, the Liberal Party will field Chinese-Australian candidates in four of the 93 seats, followed by the Greens with three, while Labor will field a candidate in the NSW Legislative Council race. 

Mr Wong, who has been a member of the NSW Legislative Council since 2013, was not endorsed by the NSW Labor Party to run again in Saturday's election. 

The Hong Kong-born MP said among the reasons for the low number of candidates were that members of the Chinese community generally lacked “a sense of unity” to "push for policy change”.

According to the 2016 NSW census, people who identified as having Chinese heritage accounted for five per cent of the state's 7.4 million people. 

Ernest Wong
Ernest Wong

In 2017, ASIO reportedly identified 10 state and local political candidates linked to Chinese intelligence agencies.

Mr Wong said that sentiments that first-generation migrants had links to Beijing were "baseless rumours".

However, he said the major parties didn't want to be seen as having connections with China.

"In fact, not only the Labor Party but also all other parties will try to avoid being seen as closely affiliated with China," he said.

Mr Wong said another factor hampering numbers was that the common Australian political convention, where prospective politicians "started from the lower hierarchy and gradually built up their integrity and credibility," was rarely adhered to by Chinese-Australians.

He said second and third-generation Chinese-Australians had a higher chance of being endorsed and subsequently elected in future ballots, as they possessed a "better understanding of the Australian culture and the needs of the Australian society".

He also warned the younger generation against entering the political sector "just for the sake of a Chinese appearance" in parliament.

Rather, he urged prospective second and third-generation Chinese-Australian politicians to attain basic knowledge of the Chinese culture and to equip themselves with appropriate Chinese language skills in order to be able to communicate with the Chinese community.

"Try to understand what they need and what they expect him or her to fight for in the parliament."

Labor's Chinese-Australian candidate for the Legislative Council was Sally Sitou.

Sally Sitou
Sally Sitou

A Labor spokesperson said the party had a "longstanding, deep engagement with the Chinese Australian community" and that Ms Sitou was a "rising star".

"At this election, Chinese-Australian Sally Sitou is running on our Legislative Council ticket. Ms Sitou is a rising star within our Party and has previously served as an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development," the spokesperson said.

"Labor is proud of the diversity of its parliamentary team. Labor is a passionate supporter of multiculturalism."

A Greens spokesperson said: "The Greens policies and commitment to people from diverse backgrounds are very strong, however, there is a huge way to go for all political parties to ensure our parliaments are representative of the broader community." 

“The kind of racism we have seen in the last few days is off-putting for people who might consider getting involved in politics, and that is something we must change," the spokesperson said. 

“We are proud of our candidates of colour across a number of electorates- Jenny Leong our MP in Newtown, and our candidates in Ku-ring-gai, Murray, Maroubra, Blue Mountains and Cabramatta."


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