Before I begin, I should give something of a personal ‘disclosure’. I am currently the associate minister of a Christian congregation, which is part of a larger network of churches throughout North-West Sydney, which is predominantly comprised of people from Asia. I regard all of them as close friends and they come from a variety of backgrounds such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. And as such, it has been said that I know my way around a dumpling or two.
What’s more, the largest church in my denomination — Presbyterian — is Chinese. Immigration from China commenced in the 1850s and the Chinese have made a significant contribution to our country in every way. And here’s what I’ve noticed. People from Asia are deeply conservative in their values regarding family, politics and especially freedom of religion.
Following on from this, everyone from Asia, and especially those who have left China, is aware of the massive problems with the Chinese government, and in particular the threat they pose to religious and personal freedom. That is why many of them left to come here! So, what we’ve all been hearing in the Australian media over the past couple of weeks is nothing surprising or controversial, especially when Chinese companies closely associated with the government have bought the port of Darwin and have tendered for our communication networks and bought up many of our prime agricultural assets.
My observation is that these days, for every ‘Aussie’ who comes to church, there are approximately five from Asia. And in terms of spiritual conversions, that statistic is also about the same. A lot of people who are Chinese who come to church have never been to one in China. And the reason they come is precisely because they’re free to do so. That’s why they like Australia. You’re free to believe, or not believe, as the case may be. And the Chinese show that they love religious freedom.
All of which is to say, that’s why many of them I know are so deeply disillusioned at present with both the Liberals and Labor, and many of them are aligning themselves with the Australian Conservatives. Because if you want freedom — and in particular, religious freedom — who do vote for?
Pauline Hanson. Nope, she has been tarred forever with racial prejudice. The Greens? Not on your life – they’re more socialist than the communists! Labor? They think so little of religious freedom they won’t even let their politicians have a free vote on the issue. So, what about the Libs? Well, a handful of them are OK — Abbott, Abetz, Sukkar, Hastie, Paterson, Hawke — but Turnbull and Brandis have had a tin ear on the issue. They are perceived as being as “turn-coat” and “hypocrite” respectively. According to many people I know, the only party who is interested in protecting religious and civil freedoms are the Australian Conservatives.
Which means that this by-election, whether people realise it or not, is the best opportunity they have to vote for religious freedom and tell all the other parties what they really think. Which means that this is going to be an interesting result this weekend. I’m more pastor than prophet, but my prediction is that the Bernardi’s candidate could easily pick up in excess of eight per cent of the primary vote. Shorten has tried to turn this into a racially divisive issue, whereas Turnbull is trying to turn it into a national security one. However, despite what both of them are saying, the real issue should be about religious freedom, which both major parties have denied the Australian people in the past week.
All of which is to the say, Kristina Keneally – even if Tony Abbott has recently described her as being the “ultimate machine politician” – clearly doesn’t understand the concerns of her constituency. To be fair, the previous PM also did say that the former NSW Labor government, of which Keneally was the Premier, was a “stinking patronage machine”. So, I guess that balances things out. But she will always be to those like the Labor Premier she deposed, Nathan Rees, ‘Eddies girl.’
In a last-ditch effort to secure votes for the Bennelong by-election this weekend, Keneally has recently come out blindly swinging with this:
What we see from Malcolm Turnbull every single day is an assertion that our Chinese-Australians — the people of Chinese descent, or Chinese who are here studying or working on temporary visas — are to be suspicious of.
Well, clearly ASIO thinks there’s something worth keeping an eye on, otherwise, why would they be tapping some people’s phones. But not to be deterred, in a classic “bait and switch” move, that would have impressed Obeid, Tripodi as well as—soon to be former—Labor Senator Dastyari, she immediately went on to add:
It’s not just Chinese-Australians, but Korean-Australians too, who know they’re getting tarred by Malcolm Turnbull’s assertion that Asian-Australians are not fully-fledged members of Team Australia.
The last time I heard this rhetoric was from Pauline Hanson and One Nation twenty years ago, and people think that we were all well behind it. But Malcolm Turnbull’s reviving it.
Ah, the old “One Nation” slur. There needs to be an Australian equivalent to Godwin’s Law or Reductio ad Hitlerum. Because what Keneally fails to understand is the difference between the Australian Chinese community, and the Chinese communist government. As one of my friends from Hong Kong explained to me, it’s a bit like suggesting that refugees would be offended if Australian politicians criticised the government of their own country of origin.
You see, even journalists over at the Sydney Morning Herald perceive there being a distinction between the Australian Chinese community and the Chinese communist government, even if they don’t explore the obvious political implications. Earlier this week they stated:
The People’s Daily, Chinese state-controlled media, published an opinion piece on Monday decrying the debate over Chinese government influence in Australia as racist and urged the Australian government and media on Monday to “discard their political biases and prejudices”.
But so far local Chinese media in Sydney – some of which have close links to the Chinese government – have largely avoided taking sides on the issue.
Hmmm, so on the one hand, the “Chinese state-controlled media” has condemned the ‘racist’ Australian media and government with their “political biases and prejudices” whereas, on the other hand, the media run by Australian Chinese people here has “avoided taking sides.” You’d have to say that the silence there is pretty deafening, wouldn’t you?
If Keneally really meant business, she should guarantee Australians about religious freedom, but we know that won’t happen. No matter what happens this weekend though, she shouldn’t worry. As we’ve all become aware this week, there’s another position in parliament which looks, somewhat fortuitously, to be opening up really soon. And for a Sinophile like KK, she should fill the shoes of that particular outgoing Senator quite nicely.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
Cartoon: Ben R Davis.
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