Gladys Liu admits community divide over government’s handling of China relationship

The Hong Kong-born MP says her constituents have raised the issue of the government’s aggressive stance towards Beijing, with some Liberals fearing a backlash at the next federal election.

The Liberal member for Chisholm Gladys Liu speaks during House of Representatives Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra.

The Liberal member for Chisholm Gladys Liu speaks during Question Time at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP

Liberal MP Gladys Liu admits the government’s handling of Australia’s relationship with China has divided opinion in her electorate, amid concerns over a potential backlash over the issue at the next federal election.

After the government's decision to join a United States-led diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, some Liberals are privately raising fears about losing key federal seats that contain strong Chinese communities.

Liberal party sources have warned of discontent amongst Australians of Chinese heritage about commentary on Australia’s deteriorating relationship with Beijing. 


The Hong Kong-born Ms Liu represents the electorate of Chisholm in Melbourne’s outer east, where around 20 per cent of her constituents are of Chinese background.

She was questioned by SBS News about the response of voters to the government’s handling of the strained relationship.

“I’m hearing different voices, so we do have people saying 'you are not doing enough' or 'you are doing too much' - that is always the case,” she said.

“As a responsible member of parliament, that's what I do. I listen, and I pass on to the leadership team and we look at all the comments and issues.” 

Australia's first ethnically Chinese member of parliament said she recognised Canberra’s divisive relationship with Beijing had prompted a mixed reaction.

“Of course we know that the Australia-China relationship is not the best at the moment,” she said.

“[But] we are all Australians here and I’m sure people will understand and support that the government is acting on their best interest.”

Ms Liu came under criticism in 2019 for her reported associations with groups with alleged links to the Chinese Communist Party. The ABC reported that Ms Liu was previously associated with Australia-based organisations with alleged ties to the United Front Work Department, a CCP agency that aims to promote China’s political interest by exerting influence on overseas Chinese communities and foreign governments. 

Ms Liu has previously denied seeking involvement or payment for being a member of any organisation with direct links to foreign powers.

Multiple Liberal sources recently told the ABC there was concern about the potential backlash from Chinese-Australians worried by the federal government's recent commentary on Beijing.

The sentiment prompted fears that electorates with strong Chinese communities - including the Sydney seats of Banks, Bennelong and Reid, as well as Melbourne's Chisholm were at risk of being lost.

Several Liberals reportedly cited Defence Minister Peter Dutton's recent comments about the prospect of war between Taiwan and China as a key point of contention.

One Liberal source confirmed to SBS News concerns over the federal government's aggressive language on China, saying that some "people in Cabinet are completely off their rocker".

Founder of the Asian Australian Alliance Erin Chew - who is a former member of the Labor Party - said the makeup of voters of Chinese heritage is complex. 

But she said there was a widespread awareness about how strained ties between Canberra and Beijing was having an impact on Chinese-Australians.

“It may become a political issue because they are a lot more aware of the racial backlash that could come from it,” she told SBS News.

“A lot of people may have that inkling particularly in the different electorates … where there is a larger population of Chinese-Australian voters.”

The Australian government has consistently raised concerns over human rights abuses in Beijing against ethnic minority Uyghurs, as well as a crackdown on political freedoms in Hong Kong.

This has prompted ire from officials in Beijing who have said the “current predicament of China-Australia relations lies squarely on the Australian side.”

Mr Morrison defended the approach to the China relationship when asked on Wednesday if his government’s “muscling up” to Beijing offered a political benefit.

"I'm doing it because it's in Australia's national interest, it's the right thing to do. Full stop," he told reporters.

Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong has also taken aim at the government’s approach, accusing Mr Dutton of “amping up" the threat of war in a “dangerous” effort to improve the Coalition’s election chances. 

Ms Chew said the "current climate” had acted to point a “target at Chinese Australians”, backing calls for a more “nuanced approach” from government.

“Coming out of the government there is talk of war, there is talk of confrontation, there is talk of boycotts and this targeting of China,” she said.

“There is that need to be a lot more nuanced in how these discussions [are had] in the public.”

5 min read
Published 9 December 2021 at 5:05pm
By Tom Stayner
Source: SBS News