'I suffered in silence': Gladys Liu reveals how she lived with a secret disability


The new Liberal MP held back tears as she talked about her experience as a migrant woman and single mother during her maiden speech to parliament.

The first Chinese-Australian woman elected to Australia's lower house has revealed she kept a disability secret for fear of the stigma in Asian communities.

Liberal MP Gladys Liu won one of the most marginal seats in the country at the May election, securing Chisholm in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

The Member for Chisholm Gladys Liu delivers her maiden speech in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, 23 July, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Gladys Liu delivers her maiden speech in the House of Representatives at Parliament House.

Delivering her maiden speech in Parliament on Tuesday night, the Hong Kong-born MP reflected on her experience as a migrant woman.

"It is a wonderful example for the welcoming character of Australians that my electorate has sent a woman born in Hong Kong to speak for them in the Parliament," she said.

Ms Liu, who is one of six children, spoke in four different languages during her speech, including her local dialect to thank her father, Cantonese to thank her sister Connie and Mandarin to address Chinese constiuents.

Gladys Liu's siblings were in the gallery for her maiden speech.
Gladys Liu's siblings were in the gallery for her maiden speech.
SBS News

The successful small business owner and speech pathologist revealed how as a teenager she discovered she was deaf in one ear.

"Having a disability can be a shameful thing in the Asian culture so I didn't tell anyone," she told the chamber.

When she did not hear people speaking to her on her left side, she said she was labelled "snobbish, not cooperative and simply rude".

"I suffered in silence. It's only in recent years that I have realised that in Australia you don't have to suffer in silence."

Single mother 'shame'

Ms Liu also opened up about the difficult choice to leave her marriage.

"The unfortunate truth is that it is not uncommon for ethnic women to stay with their husbands during unjust situations rather than face the family shame of being a single mother.

"Social norms told me that I was doing the wrong thing, so I didn’t tell anyone including my parents and siblings until years later when they came to visit me in Australia.

"Once again I felt that I had no choice but to suffer in silence. It was my children who gave me strength to do what was right by them and they gave me a purpose to keep being a good mother."

She said overcoming these hardships has motivated her to help others suffering in silence and seek public office.

Ms Liu was congratulated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison after her speech.

Australia China relationship

In her electorate of Chisholm, more people were born overseas than in Australia, with the most common countries of birth being Hong Kong, China and Taiwan.

"Chisholm is well known for its vibrant Chinese community but there are also sizeable and active communities from Greece, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, as well as, Italy, South Korea and many others."

Liberal for Chisholm Gladys Liu secured a majority for the Coalition.
Liberal MP Gladys Liu wants to be remembered as a strong advocate for her electorate Chisholm.

Ms Liu hoped her presence in the Parliament would help promote a "robust cultural and economic exchange" between Australia and China.

"I hope that my heritage and experience can contribute to a long and healthy relationship between Australia and China."

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