Federal Election 2022 Panel Discussion
The Chinese Australian Forum (CAF) held a panel discussion about the forthcoming Federal election on Friday, 6th May 2022 at the King Dynasty Restaurant in Chatswood. CAF has held such forums before the Federal elections and some NSW State elections for many years. As one of the panellists, Mark Dreyfus, the Shadow Attorney-General, remarked, it has become essential to attend a CAF forum on the Federal elections.
In the past, CAF had held such functions to only hear the views of the Liberal and Labor parties on the assumption that one of them would have the majority and therefore, form government. Due to the strong possibility of a hung parliament in this election, the Greens and Independents would decide on whether the Liberals-National coalition or the Labor Party form government. For this reason, CAF broke with tradition to invite the Greens and an Independent to the panel.
The discussion was chaired by the CAF President, Simon Chan. The listed panellists were Senator Andrew Bragg for the Liberal Party, Mark Dreyfus, the Shadow Attorney-General, for the Labor Party, Adam Bandt, the Leader of the Australian Greens and Kylea Tink, the Independent candidate for North Sydney. Unfortunately, Kylea Tink could not attend as she tested positive for Covid-19. Prof. Jocelyn Chey read a statement on her behalf. Following short opening remarks by all the panellists, the floor was thrown open to the audience for questions.
In his opening address, Simon Chan spoke of the collateral damage of racism inflicted on Chinese Australians amidst the maelstrom of the Covid-19 pandemic and Australia-China tensions.
Bragg’s opening remarks was about the Coalition’s standing on its economic record, the 4% unemployment rate and increased business opportunities. His personal view on China was that like all great powers, it would bolster its influence and legitimate interests. Nevertheless, Australia’s ban on foreign political donations was in the country’s interest and applied to all countries. He acknowledged the efforts of the previous CAF President, Jason Yat-sen Li, in combatting the racism suffered by the Chinese Australian community and the community’s steadfastness in putting up with racism.
Dreyfus found Senator Bragg’s remarks about Chinese Australians putting up with racism, odd. He maintained that nobody should put up with racism and quoted a report in which 1 in 5 Chinese Australians had been physically attacked. Labor had on two occasions fought against the Coalition’s attempt to weaken Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. On the economy, he pointed out the interest rate, cost of living and inflation had increased while wages had fallen under the Coalition government. The Coalition had also racked up one trillion dollars of debt with nothing to show for it. Labor would strengthen Medicare, reduce power bills, increase funding for aged care and childcare, seek more well-paid jobs and fund nurses to be on site in aged care homes for 24 hours. It would tackle climate change and legislate for an anti-corruption commission by the end of the year.
Bandt who is the Federal member for the seat of Melbourne revealed that his constituency included Chinatown. Many older Chinese Australians were in housing commission accommodation and were subjected to racism during the Covid lockdown. He met with Melbourne Chinese Australian leaders to counter these attacks. The party had blocked the weakening of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in the Senate. Going further, in the next parliament, it would pass a Multicultural Act as a foundation stone for strengthening multiculturalism and better relations between communities. He deplored the Coalition’s khaki election campaign and the talk about the drums of war. He cited the comments of Chris Barrie, the former Defence Chief, that the scare campaign was hiding the biggest security risk, climate change. Resorting to racism and security to win an election would make the country less safe. Its effects would be felt mainly by Chinese Australians. Bandt felt that Australia, in having good relations with the US and China, was in a unique position to deescalate rather than escalate tension between the two countries. The Greens would stop the opening of new coal and gas mines to stem the climate crisis. It would support universal dental and mental care. To improve affordable housing, it would build houses that people could buy for $300,000 or rent for 25% of their income.
Kylea Tink, in her statement, divulged that she was standing as an Independent because the diverse community in her electorate was being ignored by the gridlock of the two major parties. She cited concerns over health care, education, lack of long-term planning and the deterioration of relations between Australia and China over the last 8 years. The latter had not only strained relations between the two countries but also between family and friends. Her pitch to vote for her or another Independent was the Independents were free of the constraints imposed by the major political parties to move society forward.
Question time, as in previous Federal election panel discussions, did not disappoint. There were well thought out and probing questions. Peter Dutton, the Defence Minister, had been talking about preparing for war against China the previous week. As iron ore is needed to produce steel for making submarines, aircraft carriers that would in turn be used against Australia in war, a member of the audience asked as to whether Australia should stop selling iron ore to China. None of the panellists agreed to stop selling iron ore to China. Bandt and Dreyfus commented on the intemperate language of the Defence Minister and the Prime Minister for domestic consumption.
Bragg, in response to a question about Chinese Australians being selected in unwinnable seats for the Liberal Party pointed to the election of Gladys Liu in the seat of Chisholm. He then went on to accuse the Labor Party of racism to Gladys Liu. Dreyfus objected to the accusation. He clarified the Labor Party’s objection was Gladys Liu’s use of the purple and white colour of the Australian Electoral Commission in her election posters in Mandarin. It could have misled some voters. The objection was held up in court.
The same questioner asked Dreyfus as to why Andrew Charlton and Kristina Keneally had been parachuted into the seats of Parramatta and Fowler where there were many Asian Australians. He acknowledged that getting selected as a candidate was a tough process but deflected the crux of the question by expressing a desire to appoint a Federal Chinese Australian judge in a future Labor government.
Bandt in response to the same questioner about how the Greens could attract more Chinese Australians espoused the Greens policies. He encouraged people to participate in the election process with the possibility of becoming election candidates. Jenny Leong, the Greens State MP, who is a core member of the Greens, was a good example. The Greens have 10 Federal parliamentarians of which three are women of colour and two are Indigenous.
There were two questions on the implications of a hung parliament. Bragg drew the spectre of a fragmented approach in government but agreed with Dreyfus that parliament would have to work with whoever have been elected. The Greens’ position is to have a change of government. In the event of a hung parliament, it would support Labor forming government. Just as the Greens did with the Labor minority government in 2013, it will work with Labor and the Independents to pass legislation. This is despite both the Coalition and Labor saying that they would not work with the Greens. Dreyfus pointed out that the Liberal Party has not governed on its own and has been a minority government in coalition with the Nationals for decades. In the last three years, it has been an unstable government with the Nationals tail wagging the Liberals. To allay fears of a hung parliament, he pointed out the Gillard Labor government was a minority government and Labor has not had a majority in the Senate for decades. Negotiations with the cross bench resulted in 500 pieces of legislation being passed. He quoted the National Broadband network, NDIS, a comprehensive climate policy as proof of a viable minority government.
National security laws passed 4 years ago in a climate of suspicion about Chinese people, especially those born in China had not resulted in a single conviction. In alluding to this, Bragg was asked as to why Chinese Australians should not abandon the Liberal Party just as the party had abandoned them. Bragg disagreed with the speaker. Dreyfus noted that the PM had not been strong in condemning Senator Eric Abetz and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells when they questioned the loyalty of Chinese Australians appearing before a Senate committee on diaspora. Bandt added that such racist incidents should be condemned.
A question about one in 25 Australian premises being uninsurable by 2030 produced responses about climate policies.
The final question was about the influence of the US and the UK on Australia’s foreign policy. The questioner opined that Australian policy toward China changed following Obama’s pivot to Asia and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Both Dreyfus and Bragg maintained that Australia has independent foreign policies. Bandt believed that Australian foreign policies had been outsourced.