THE kids, says Hong Lim, are doing fine. They have degrees, professions, and lots are driving a Mercedes. Life’s good.

But the state Labor MP says there is something missing in this success story for a growing middle class of Chinese Australians: they don’t have a say in the national conversation.

“There is no voice, no effective body at the national level, for Chinese Australians,” says Mr Lim, the sole Asian in State Parliament. ”This is not right. Because of the sheer numbers, the sheer wealth, the sheer brain power they have, they should have something more.”

Instead, he says, Australia’s oldest ethnic minority is largely invisible in Australian politics, under-represented in leadership positions, and mute in national debates.

Mr Lim, originally from Cambodia, is among a group of Chinese Australians, clustered around the Chinese Community Council of Australia, trying to give a voice to a growing part of the Australian population.

Ideas emerging from the council challenge the stereotype of a politically passive community. They insist Australia confronts its history of anti-Chinese racism and educate its children about it. They question why Asian faces are absent from our TV screens. They challenge political parties – and the Chinese community itself – to deal with the lack of ethnic Chinese MPs. And while they say it’s time the Chinese had a voice, they admit the diversity of the community prevents any one group from claiming to represent it.

In the 2006 census, more than 700,000 Australians – almost 4 per cent of the population – traced a Chinese ancestor. Some 380,000 residents were born in China, making them the third-largest overseas-born group after Britons and New Zealanders.

Chinese language speakers are the second-largest language group after English. Yet these numbers are not reflected in public life, says Chek Ling, a convenor of the Chinese Community Council of Australia.

“Apart from Penny Wong, the Finance Minister, there’s hardly anyone you can recognise,” he says. “They are not on TV, not public intellectuals, or human rights or social justice activists. There are none in the judiciary.”
“We are seen as very good as surgeons, accountants, doctors, but there seems to be a sort of gatekeeping at a cultural level, so the Chinese are not able to have a voice.” Jen Tsen Kwok, who is writing a PhD on Chinese Australian engagement in politics, cautions against any assumption of a homogenous Chinese community.

Instead, there are diverse communities made of different strands: descendants of 19th century migrants who survived the White Australia policy; students from Malaysia and Singapore who came in the late 1950s and 1960s; refugees from Indochina in the late 1970s; and the surge of migrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and China from the late 1980s.

“There are not many ethnic groups like the Chinese who come from so many diverse source nations and have such diverse experiences, so to try to construct a single narrative around political engagement is very difficult,” Mr Kwok says.

There are also historical factors inhibiting their political engagement. War and revolution in China over the past century had a “blanketing effect on the desire to engage politically”. Many Chinese from south-east Asia had also experienced discrimination, which made them reluctant to engage in politics.

There is also Australia’s history of racism and the White Australia Policy, introduced largely to keep Chinese out.

Ethnic Chinese aspiring to elected office also face resistance from political parties. In some cases their ethnicity works against them, Mr Kwok says. They are seen as outsiders, while in New South Wales they are regarded primarily as sources of funds.

Anthony Pun, national president of the community council, says Labor and the Liberals in NSW have seen Chinese candidates as “Asian cash cows”.

The Sunday AGE Tom Hyland – January 15, 2012

林美丰说:年轻人都干得挺好的。他们有学历,都是专业人士,很多人都开着奔驰车。生活真的不错。

但是,作为州议员的林美丰同时指出:在澳洲华人逐渐成长为中产阶级的成功故事背后,有某些东西缺失了 – 华人在澳缺乏话语权。

林先生是维多利亚州唯一的亚裔议员,他说:在澳洲政界,华人们少有“声音”,更没有一个能代表华人的全国性团体;这是不对的 — 以华人的数目之众,财富之多,聪明才智,他们应该得到更多。

林先生解释道:华人是澳洲历史中最古老的少数民族,但在澳洲政史中却属于隐形状态;在政界,华人的地位很低,在全国性的政治讨论中也是“无声”的。

林先生是一名柬埔寨华人,他组织当地华人团体,组成“澳华社区议会”(Chinese Community Council of Australia),试图使在澳洲不断增长的华人们在政界有自己的发言权。

对澳华社区议会的挑战源起华人们在政治上处于被动的社会现象。澳华社区议会坚持让澳洲社会正确面对澳洲反华种族歧视的历史,并教育子女们,使他们了解这段历史。澳华社区议会质疑在媒体缺少亚洲人面孔的问题,并向自己和各大政党提出解决缺少华人议员问题的挑战。

然而,在指出华人当前在政界缺失声音的同时,澳华社区议会也承认,由于华人社区的多样化,其中包含了来自不同地方和背景的华人,以致很难找到任何一方代表所有人的意见。

2006年的人口普查显示,有超过70万的澳洲人,即近4%的澳洲人源自华族。其中,约38万人在中国出生,是继英国和新西兰之后的第三大海外出生国。

中文是在英文之后的第二大语言。但正如澳华社区议会召集人,Chek Ling所说,这些数字并不能反映澳洲当地的公共生活。他说:除了澳洲金融部长黄英贤(Penny Wong),在电视上,公共知识分子圈内,人权或司法活动家群体里,你很难再看到华人的参与。我们甚至没有华人的法官。

正在撰写有关澳洲华人从政问题博士论文的Jen Tsen Kowk在慎重考虑了有关华族同源的假定后说:华人中有很好的外科医师、会计、医生,但却可能因为文化问题,华人很少在政治界出现。

在澳洲,华人的组成范围广泛:有19世纪在白澳政策下存活下来的;上个世纪50、60年代来自马来西亚和新加坡的留学生;70年代来在印度支那的难民;以及80年代后期从香港、台湾和中国内地来的移民。Kowk称,像华人这样来自不同国家、不同的背景的民族很少,要想构建统一的华人政治立场是比较困难的。

此外,还有其他历史因素阻碍了华人参与政治。上世纪的连贯的战争和改革产生了一个“对参政欲望的被子效应”。同时,很多来自东南亚的华人曾遭受歧视,令他们不愿从政。澳洲曾发生的种族歧视和白澳政策,也令华人对政治却步。

一些希望从政的华人面临了很多来自政党的阻碍。Kwok说,他们的种族来源让他们被视为“外来者”,在新兰威尔士州,他们主要被视为政党的献金来源。

澳华社区议会的全国主席潘瑞亮博士表示,新南威尔士工党和自由党视华人候选人为“亚洲摇钱树”。他说,有时候,我们感觉我们自己是“钱袋子”,什么时候党派需要钱,我们就会捐钱,之后他们就忘记我们是谁了。而且两大政党都有这样的倾向。

工党的李润辉Francis Lee就曾遭遇过这样的经历。他在州议会和悉尼市议员预选落选后便不再抱幻想。在他最后一次参加预选时,党领袖曾问他可以为政党筹得多少钱,最后他输给一个具有更大资金实力的自由党转投工党的党员。政党只对钱有兴趣, 而不是候选人的天资和能力。

尽管如此,李润辉指出华人们从新涉足政界,主要是在地方政府。现有至少10人活跃在墨尔本地方政府,与悉尼的人数相仿。李润辉更指出,华人议员在日常政治事务中面临艰难的阻碍。他说,他们需要在选民种族问题的基础上克服阻力;就算其他条件相当,亚洲候选人在这个问题上也会遇到更多困难。

维州自由党前参议员陈之杉表示,他看见亚洲人面孔在地方政府不断增多的积极迹象;州长百鲁 (Ted Baillieu) 和反对党领袖安德鲁斯(Daniel Andrews)在华人社区都委任了特别顾问。他说对于很多刚移民澳洲的人来说,政治并不是他们的首要需求;而在种族偏见方面,一些澳洲人永远都不会投华人或穆斯林一票,尽管他本人从政期间没有遇到这样的问题。

他说,我知道的确有些和我说过话的人因为一时意气而不投我票,可是我肯定有选民是因为我是华人而投我一票的。

但也有人不持乐观的态度。林美丰说,在联邦和州政府参政的华人对比起其他民族,包括希腊、土耳其和意大利人的参政人数要少得多。

他说,一个正在增长的社区却没有代表他们的声音,在许多公共服务中都缺少支持,例如新移民定居服务和老年人护理等。这并非一个健康的现象。

他表示,这对华人社区简直就是藐视,政府和两派政党都应该关注这个问题。
同时,他也看到了年青一代的华人开始活跃于校园政治、政党和社区服务事务。他指出他们怀着一颗“渴望”的心,相信在公民生活中占一席之地比拥有奔驰车更重要。

2012年1月15 日 The AGE 报Tom Hyland (汤姆∙海兰)