‘I want to see more of their voices’: Anti-Chinese racism ‘abhorrent’, ‘counterproductive’ to Australia’s interests, Senator says

‘I want to see more of their voices’: Anti-Chinese racism ‘abhorrent’, ‘counterproductive’ to Australia’s interests, Senator says

Sarah Basford Canales – The Canberra Times – Thursday 15 April 2021

Liberal senator James Paterson has called for more of the 1.2 million Chinese descendants who live and work in Australia to have their voices heard in the debate on the country’s relations with China.

“We really do need to make it very clear that we have no quarrel with the Chinese people … certainly not those living in Australia, and that our disagreement and dispute is with the Chinese Communist Party,” Senator Paterson said.

“I want to see more of their voices in our public debate, not less.”

The comments come as research released in recent months showed a rise in discrimination and violence against Chinese-Australians amid the COVID-19 pandemic and political tensions with China.

The results of a Lowy Institute survey in March revealed one in five Chinese-Australians felt physically threatened or attacked because of their heritage in the past 12 months.

It follows heavy criticism of Liberal senator Eric Abetz late last year, after comments he made demanding two Chinese-Australians appearing before a parliamentary hearing condemn the Chinese government.

Senator Paterson said language was important and politicians should work to be more careful with words used and their potential inference.

“I’m particularly conscious that, as parliamentarians, we have to be very careful with our choice of language and very precise in what we mean,” Senator Paterson said.

“We have to be very conscious not to stoke broader anti-Chinese or anti-Asian sentiment in our contributions to the public debate. That’s something I think very deeply about.”

However, that did not mean he would not speak out about the Chinese government, he said.

“I will never allow a false accusation of racism to silence my criticism of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

The Victorian senator is part of a non-partisan group of MPs who call themselves the “Wolverines”. The group is united not by political affiliations but by a shared interest in staying tough against China’s growing influence and power.

Despite the serious nature of the issue, Senator Paterson said the name of the group was part of their publicity strategy.

“It is a very tongue-in-cheek label. We do not seriously consider ourselves to be wolverines,” Senator Paterson said.

“You don’t get a double-page spread in the Herald Sun on Chinese foreign interference issues without a marketing spin to it. And that’s what it was designed to do.”

His newly appointed position as the intelligence and security committee chair, following Assistant Defence Minister Andrew Hastie’s promotion, has meant Senator Paterson oversees inquiries looking into the country’s national security apparatus and the growing threat posed by foreign influence and interference in universities.

Senator Paterson said he wanted to see universities tackle the threats head on, without leaning on government legislation as a last resort.

“The law should be the absolute outer limit of what’s permissible, and universities do not need to go all the way up to that line,” he said.

“When you see, for example, stories that some Australian academics have co-operated in surveillance technology that has been rolled out in Xinjian against the Uighur people – it shouldn’t need to be against the law for an Australian university to be uncomfortable about that.

“Universities have to exercise their own independent judgment as well.”

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