A leading Chinese community member says two years of COVID-19, the current heated Australia/China political relationship and an at times ugly federal election campaign are increasing incidents of racism.
Appearing before a Legislative Assembly committee inquiry into racial vilification, the ACT President of the Federation of the Chinese Community of Canberra, Hao Gu, said while Canberra was largely a welcoming, multicultural community, people at the receiving end of racial targeting could be left with a “huge scar”.
“After COVID-19, things have been getting worse and with the current social and political environment and the [discourse] about Australia’s and China’s relationship … it makes lots of local Chinese people very worried,” he said.
Mr Gu said some of his community members had been targeted by slurs which included pandemic-related terms such as ‘China virus’.
“We, Chinese-Australians, like Australians, have pledged our loyalty to this country by choice, not because we were born here … because we believe in the Australian values.”
Mr Gu described some targeted electoral campaigning and advertising as “very unfortunate”.
A recent billboard paid for by right-wing lobby group Advance Australia showed a smiling Chinese President Xi Jinping casting his ballot with the slogan ‘Vote Labor’.
ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher described the billboard as base politics.
During a three-month reporting period early last year, local Chinese media organisations were made aware of at least seven reported incidents of racism.
One of these was the high-profile incident involving a teenage boy racially abusing the Chinese-Australian owner of the Folks Gallery in Dickson, Vincent Chen.
Footage of the incident in March last year showed the boy making racist references to the appearance of cafe staff and repeatedly referring to “viruses” before spitting on an outside table and telling staff to “clean that up”.
Mr Chen last year said the incident showed a lack of education about racism in schools and the wider community.
Mr Gu had also heard about a group of Chinese people being targeted by teenagers in Gungahlin who screamed “go back to China”.
Also addressing the inquiry, Australia School of Contemporary Chinese president Dr Fuxin Li recalled a recent incident where a group of intoxicated people targeted local Asian grocery and takeaway businesses in Dickson.
Dr Li said the incident was reported to police but he was unaware of any charges laid against the offender.
Mr Gu was particularly concerned about several overt displays of racism by teenagers. He said better education about differences, multiculturalism and how to spot misinformation could help remedy the situation.
Another area of concern for the Chinese community was the lack of clear education for international students.
Mr Gu was aware of incidents where students thought they might face deportation if they reported racism to police.
ACT Policing previously confirmed to Region Media that it received “a small number of reports of offences which may be racially motivated”, and all reports were taken seriously.
Mr Gu said ACT Policing was doing a good job. But in many cases, it was about encouraging community members to come forward and report incidents of racism.
He also advocated for harsher penalties on those who racially vilified or abused others.
“Australia is one of the best, if not the best multicultural community in the world,” he said. “However, from time to time, a small pocket of the population shows racial hatred.
“We want to raise awareness of those incidents which do happen from time to time … and to combat those bad behaviours.”
Anyone found guilty of ‘serious vilification’ faces fines of up to $8000.
If you experience violence, abuse or other criminal behaviour, report it to the ACT Human Rights Commission on 6205 2222.
If you need support, call Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line on 13 11 14.