Title Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
14/10/2020
Issues facing diaspora communities in Australia
Database Senate Committees
Date 14-10-2020
Source Senate
Parl No. 46
Committee Name Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee
Page 1
Questioner CHAIR (Senator Kitching)
CHAIR
Abetz, Sen Eric
Fierravanti-Wells, Sen Concetta
Sheldon, Sen Anthony
Ayres, Sen Timothy
Rice, Sen Janet
Responder Ms Jiang
Mr Chiu
Ms Chau
System Id committees/commsen/67468563-3779-4ac6-b135-bb278c052b6a/0001


Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee - 14/10/2020 - Issues facing diaspora communities in Australia

CHAU, Ms Wesa, Private capacity

CHIU, Mr Osmond, Research Fellow, Per Capita

JIANG, Ms Yun, Private capacity

Evidence was taken via teleconference—

Committee met at 09:10

CHAIR ( Senator Kitching ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee via teleconference. This public hearing is for the committee's inquiry into issues facing diaspora communities in Australia. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. The audio is streaming live via the web, which can be found at www.aph.gov.au. Information on procedural rules governing public hearings and claims of public interest immunity has been provided to witnesses.

I welcome the witnesses. Thank you for your time and for your written submissions. We very much appreciate it. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to questions.

Ms Jiang : My experience and research is focused mostly on the Chinese diaspora in Australia. I want to talk about three interrelated issues today: the PRC's intimidation of individuals in Australia; foreign interference and its implications for the diaspora community; and the underrepresentation of Chinese Australians in policy making and public commentary about policy issues.

We know from media reports that the Chinese government has pressured and intimidated individuals outside China who have criticised the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party. They do so by either pressuring their families in China or waiting for these individuals to go to China.

There are currently two Australians being detained in China for seemingly political reasons. Both are Australians of Chinese heritage. Because of this, people who maintain a strong connection to China may choose to self-censor when speaking publicly. This disproportionately affects people in the Chinese diaspora and minority groups, such as Uighurs. On the other hand, people in the Chinese diaspora may also choose to self-censor because they don't want their loyalties to be questioned constantly in the public arena or be suspected of foreign interference simply due to their political views.

Most Australians don't know what activities actually constitute foreign interference. The Australian government still has not released any examples or guidelines on which activities constitute foreign interference and which do not, beyond this general definition:

carried out by, or on behalf of a foreign actor

coercive, corrupting, deceptive, clandestine

contrary to Australia's sovereignty, values and national interests

However, activities described in media reports are often taken as evidence of foreign interference. This includes very tenuous connections such as attending meetings or speaking at events organised by Chinese officials or organisations with connections to the Chinese state or even being a member of a chat group. An individual's political views where they do not align with the views of the Australian government or are sufficiently critical of the Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party may be presented as a result of foreign interference. There is a diverse range of political views in the Chinese diaspora. We live in a liberal democracy and we're entitled to hold different political views from those of the ruling government, otherwise there would not be an opposition party.

The general suspicion towards people with Chinese heritage in the context of foreign interference means that Chinese-Australians are less likely to publicly advocate policy positions contrary to the official Australian government policy. So it's no wonder that many Chinese-Australians are choosing to remain silent and refusing to speak out publicly on Australia's foreign and domestic policies. On the one hand, if they criticise the Chinese government, then their family may face trouble, or they may have difficulties going to China in the future. They may also be accused of being a race traitor by a Chinese nationalist. On the other hand, if they criticise the Australian government, they're suspected of being an agent for foreign interference, having their loyalties questioned or accused of being brainwashed. This is a toxic environment for Chinese-Australians to be in. As a result, many Chinese-Australians have chosen to vacate the public debate on Australia's China policy altogether. Commentators like to say that the Chinese Communist Party deliberately conflates Chinese people with the party. While that is true, it is not just the Chinese Communist Party that is doing the conflating.

The foreign interference debate has inflamed racial undertones in Australia. For example, recently a member of the ACT Legislative Assembly, Elizabeth Lee, who is a Korean-Australian, was told, 'Go back to your country; you are a Chinese spy.' Chinese-Australians should be treated the same way as all other Australians. It is not fair they be suspected of foreign interference for having appeared at an event. It is not fair their loyalty be questioned for having a certain political view. And it is not fair to force them to take positions of political action, such as critiquing Beijing, when similar requests are not made to other Australians. This concludes my opening statement.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Jiang. We might go to you, Mr Chiu.

Mr Chiu : Firstly, thank you to the committee for the opportunity to appear this morning. I'd like to acknowledge that I'm appearing on the land of the Gadigal people of Eora nation and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging.

Australia is a proudly egalitarian and diverse nation. Half of us are migrants or the children of migrants. We are strongly supportive of multiculturalism, and two-thirds agree that migration makes Australia a stronger nation. We have many attributes that make Australia a desirable place to live, attributes like our democratic system of government, access to quality public services and the rule of law.

We should be proud of our achievements as a country, but we should also not rest on our laurels. A confident nation can recognise what it does well and why people want to live here but also reflect on where we can do better to live up to our values. The fact is, Australia is lagging behind comparable countries when it comes to the representation of our cultural diversity in our democratic institutions, comparable countries that we share a common English-speaking Westminster heritage with, like Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. We do worse than these countries when it comes to representation in our national parliament, despite similar or greater levels of cultural diversity. While around 21 per cent of Australians have non-European ancestry, only four per cent of Australian federal MPs do. In contrast, one in 10 MPs elected in the 2019 British election was from a black or minority ethnic background; in the 2019 Canadian federal election, 15.1 percent of MPs elected were from visible minorities; and, in New Zealand, about 12.7 per cent of their parliamentarians come from non-indigenous diverse backgrounds. These countries all have different electoral systems and all have different party systems, yet all do better than Australia.

These issues of underrepresentation extend to senior levels in our democratic institutions. If you look at the cabinet of the United Kingdom, the equivalent of our Treasurer and our home affairs minister—in a Conservative government—are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. In Canada, six members of the cabinet are from visible minorities. We are nowhere near that in Australia. As far as I'm aware, we don't have a single cabinet minister with non-European, non-Indigenous ancestry.

This is not a left-versus-right issue; this is about ensuring that Australia can harness the benefits of our existing cultural diversity in the national interest. Political parties overseas understand that diverse representation matters. As an example, when he became British Prime Minister, Conservative leader Boris Johnson stated that he wanted a cabinet that reflected, in his words, 'modern Britain', and he made sure it happened with his cabinet appointments. We should be aspiring to something similar, because our parliament and our cabinet do not look like modern Australia.

If we care about the best outcomes for Australia, we need to prioritise more diverse representation. A more diverse parliament means more people with different lived experiences and different perspectives—different perspectives that will help us make better, more accurate decisions, which is important as we navigate an increasingly complex world. A lack of cultural diversity means it's more likely that we may overlook key issues in policy debates. It can lead to a more disconnected, myopic and polarised debate about issues like race, identity and our place in the world. It can even lead to poor decisions about basic service delivery. It makes it easier to overlook important details because of a lack of familiarity and a failure to consider the importance of simple things, like specific strategies or policies for specific, culturally diverse communities. Just as the lived experience of someone from regional Tasmania is not the same as that of someone from inner-city Sydney, the experience of a first- or second-generation Australian from a culturally diverse background is not the same as that of a person who has been a multigenerational Australian whose ancestors migrated from the British Isles. If we want to make the best decisions in the interests of all Australians, we should be aiming to include all Australians in the decision-making process—and that means in politics.

This can be an uncomfortable conversation for some people. The purpose is not to divide the community; rather, it comes from a wish for Australia to be the best country it can be, for it to reflect the full diversity of the country we call home. It's about living up to our desire to be the most successful multicultural country in the world. But to get there we need to overcome some key barriers. These barriers mean we may not always get the best people in politics, because they may not have existing advantages, like party networks, that often have nothing to do with hard work or merit. The fact is successful political candidates these days tend to be party insiders. Almost 40 per cent of federal MPs in 2018 worked as advisers in state or federal government before running for office. That's up from less than four per cent in 1988. Despite its benefits, cultural diversity is not a priority. There is not a pipeline of culturally diverse candidates, and thus there is often a small pool of culturally diverse candidates running for election in our major parties. There's a view that it's not prioritised, in part because it's not seen as electorally advantageous.

There are practical things that can be done to try to overcome these barriers. Firstly, we need to collect comprehensive data on representation in politics, because we don't really know its full extent—and we don't know the full extent of underrepresentation in other areas of life, not just politics. Even the ABS doesn't really collect this data in a user-friendly manner. You can't go to the ABS website and easily find out how many Australians are from culturally diverse backgrounds. Parties should collect and publish de-identified data on their candidates, their MPs and those with key party positions. Secondly, parties need to invest in culturally diverse talent. They need to provide support through training and mentoring programs to create a pipeline of talent so a lack of culturally diverse candidates is no longer an excuse. And, finally, we need to consider whether targets for winnable seats to create incentives within parties to promote and seek out diverse candidates are needed. The fact is there are plenty of individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds who are not party insiders—who are making contributions in business, the public sector, the community sector, the arts and in a range of other industries and in a range of roles—who would make great contributions to political life.

I am under no illusion that improving representation takes time. There is no silver bullet, but it's in Australia's interest for our democratic institutions to represent the diversity of our nation. Our aim should be to achieve a truly representative parliament that reflects the values of equality and multiculturalism that Australia stands for. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Chiu. Ms Chau?

Ms Chau : Thank you for the opportunity to present at this Senate hearing. I also want to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which I'm sitting, the Woiwurrung people of the eastern Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging and those who might be here today.

I'm presenting today as an individual, but I do want to provide you with an understanding of some of the work that I've done in the past. I was the founder of the Australian Federation of International Students and I've worked in the multicultural sector for nearly 20 years, bringing some of the cultural insights from multicultural community to international relations. I'm currently the CEO of Cultural Intelligence, helping organisations understand the power of cultural diversity, and co-founder of Resilience Against Racism, an initiative to provide workshops to help multicultural communities in Australia to cope with experiences of racism and to help witnesses of racism speak out and support others. While I've worked in many diverse multicultural communities in Australia, I was also founding deputy president of the Chinese Community Council of Australia in Victoria in 2009, my submission is primarily focused on the Chinese Australian communities.

First of all, I just want to again highlight the diversity of the Chinese diaspora community in Australia. They do differ with the place-of-origin language they speak and the type of visa they migrated to Australia with—these are mentioned in my submission—and, as such, the community should never be seen as one group, but as a diverse group with many, many different views on a range of issues. However, there is one thing I would say is common to everybody, and that is they come to Australia to seek a better life for themselves and their children.

Australia is an ideal place for migration because of our liberal democracy and rule of law; however, in recent years the quality and values of liberal democracy have deteriorated for the Chinese diaspora in Australia. In a thriving liberal democracy we must be given the right to freedom of speech; however, as the relationship between Australia and China has deteriorated, and the space for debate has become more toxic, many members of the community have noted that it has become more difficult for them to belong in Australia, in fear of judgement made on them purely based on their appearance.

In a toxic environment, many members of the Chinese diaspora community have expressed that they do not feel they have the freedom to discuss the Australia-China relationship with nuance and without judgement. Some have expressed they do not want to express their views in public because they're concerned their views will be twisted and/or worse—that is, the suggestion they have links and connections with the Chinese Communist Party without clear evidence, and being judged purely based on appearance. These are very serious allegations to be placed on anybody. This is not the time to alienate the Chinese diaspora, because, in order to manage a really complex relationship with China effectively, we need their knowledge and understanding of China to do this well. I believe the Australian government has a role to play in upholding liberal democracy and moving away from tribalism by promoting mature debates and working with the Australian media to ensure there is a space for robust debates on complex issues, and not making assumptions based on ethnicity and race. The result of the lack of genuine nuanced debate indirectly led to a increase in incidents of racism towards the Chinese diaspora in Australia. Since the COVID pandemic impacted Australia, anyone who appears to look Chinese has been blamed for the pandemic, including people who are of Asian appearance. Racism towards the Chinese diaspora needs to be addressed to ensure everyone belongs in Australia, such as having a national antiracism strategy and investment in the community to support people who've experienced and witnessed racism. We need to be open and true to our democratic values in order to create an inclusive and harmonious community.

In order to reduce racism, we need to support more Chinese diasporas to participate in our public institutions. Chinese Australians, like all Australians, should not be subject to the questioning of their loyalty and commitment to Australia. Doing so suggests they're not welcome to fully participate in our society. It is disconcerting that any time a Chinese Australian seeks to run for public office, they're bullied online and accused of having links to the Chinese Communist party. The question is this: if people from other culturally diverse backgrounds run for public office, are they subjected to the same questioning of their loyalty and allegiance to Australia? There are a number of Vietnamese, Greek, Italian, German, Jewish candidates running for public office. I've not yet seen, to my knowledge, any questioning from the media and current politicians as to their loyalty to Australia, or their opinions on their country of origin, and nor should they need to.

Additionally, I would also call on the committee to consider encouraging civic education for all Australian citizens to help them understand how Australian democracy operates. Many migrants, including those who migrated from another democracy, may have certain views on what democracy looks like, and the perception is democracy equates to the United States model or the model of their country of origin. However, this version of democracy may vary from Australia's democracy, and I believe more effective civic education will have lasting positive impacts in Australia.

In closing, I do want to again reiterate the diversity of the Chinese diaspora community in Australia, and I believe it is important for the Australian government to make an even more conscious effort to better understand the diversity among diaspora communities and to engage better with community organisations at a deeper level, rather than painting them all with the same brush.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Ms Chau. Yesterday, in the foreign relations bill hearing, we heard about a job that was posted on the University of Sydney careers board for the Hong Kong police. I think everyone acknowledges there are serious human rights issues in Hong Kong. Can you expand on what you think—not just about that, but also about the responsibility of institutions in Australia to provide a safe environment, free from bullying and intimidation, for the diaspora and overseas communities?

Ms Jiang : Is that question to all witnesses?

CHAIR: To all witnesses, yes.

Ms Jiang : China is one of the top violators of human rights in the world. It is doubling down on its ethnic policies, despite rising condemnation from around the world. It's policies towards ethnic minority groups, including Uighurs, Tibetans and Mongols, are assimilationist and, at times, coercive. It intimidates, harasses and prosecutes human rights activists and dissidents within its borders. In Hong Kong, human rights and democracy are in retreat in the face of Beijing's drive to tighten controls. The implementation of national security laws is the latest illustration of this. China has the capacity to silence some critics abroad through pressuring their families in China, or denying them entry and revoking their visas to China.

The Australian government should do more to protect the vulnerable groups and individuals who are victims of China's grievous human rights abuses, although we should also be aware that it's not entirely possible to protect dissidents and their families when they're not in Australia or are harassed and intimidated online from people outside Australia.

Ms Chau : I think Australia should defend human rights and speak up against abuses, not shy away from it. However, I do want to focus on the rights of the Chinese diaspora in Australia to have the space to really talk about their views without judgement. We do need to create spaces where people can debate and discuss their views and not create a toxic atmosphere that prevents citizens from participating in public debate.

CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Chiu?

Mr Chiu : I'm not across that particular example that you raised, but my broad view is that human rights are universal and should be upheld whether in Australia or overseas, and Australian institutions should protect human rights and not actively assist in human rights violations.

CHAIR: Just to explain: yesterday we were discussing a University of Sydney careers hub online board that is recruiting for the Hong Kong Police Force. We had a lot of the universities and the peak bodies of the universities come to give evidence yesterday, and we were asking about that. That's just some further detail for you. Thank you for your responses. I will go to the deputy chair, Senator Abetz.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you to the witnesses for their submissions. I know time is slipping away, so I will ask Mr Chiu a question. You seem to believe that Australian politics is too white. I just want to ask you whether or not you believe in the quote from Martin Luther King that people should not be judged by the colour of the skin but by the content of their character. Isn't that a more important characteristic in our body politic—that we have men and women of integrity, of commitment to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, general tolerance et cetera, as opposed to some physical characteristic that may have no bearing whatsoever on their capacity to be a representative of the people?

Mr Chiu : Thank you for the question. To give a bit of context: that was more to provoke a response rather than to explicitly say that. What I have suggested in my submission is targets. The purpose isn't to say that we must have people from a particular background, but the point was to prompt thinking and conversation about why we aren't reflective of the population. I think we can all agree that, in an ideal world, we would not need things like targets, but we know these kinds of mechanisms have worked when applied to, say, gender. If you look at the Liberal Party, for example, even it has targets for women, because it recognises underrepresentation. I don't think that the existence of targets is suggesting that we don't believe in equality or that people shouldn't be judged on the content of their character; rather it recognises that we live in an imperfect world and, to achieve equality, we have to think about equity.

Senator ABETZ: Can I simply say that, if we're talking about certain diaspora populations being underrepresented, if that were to be the criterion, then I, being an immigrant from a non-English-speaking background, representing the state of Tasmania, am overrepresenting that cohort of Tasmanians. There are other factors a lot more important to be considered than skin colour and ethnic origin, I would suggest to you. Can I ask each of the three witnesses to very briefly tell me whether they are willing to unconditionally condemn the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship? It's not a difficult question.

Ms Jiang : As I have stated in a lot of my public statements, I condemn the grievous human rights abuses done by the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party, but I also have said before that I don't think it's fair to force all Chinese Australians to take a position or political action when similar requests are not being made to other Australians.

CHAIR: Mr Chiu?

Mr Chiu : As I said previously, I support and believe in the universality of human rights. I don't support the Communist Party but I don't believe that it's helpful to get into a political game of denouncements.

Senator ABETZ: So you can't condemn it?

Mr Chiu : I think my statement was quite clear about how I don't support the Communist Party and I don't support what it does.

Senator ABETZ: There's a difference between not supporting something and actively condemning a regime that engages in forced organ harvesting and having a million Uighers in concentration camps—the list goes on, and all we have is this limp statement that we don't support it. Ms Chau?

Ms Chau : I think that all migrants should have a right to participate in Australian democracy and to be able to distinguish their ethnicity and race from geopolitical issues. As citizens, we should first and foremost be treated as every other citizen—and not every other Australian of any other ethnicity has been asked the same question. For example, in your distinguished political career, Senator, have you been asked to be loyal to Australia because you were born in Germany?

Senator ABETZ: Oh, absolutely! Have you not read the terrible trolling that I receive? I am astounded that you would ask that question! And, sadly, if you're of Italian origin you will be asked if you're part of the Mafioso—

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: That's right!

Senator ABETZ: If you're Vietnamese you'll be asked if you're part of a triad. If you're German, like myself, you must be a Fascist by birth, irrespective of what your public utterances might be. And so the list goes on. That is why, might I add, that in nearly every single interview that I do unequivocally condemning the Chinese Communist Party I stress that this is not a condemnation of the Chinese people—because I believe that they are just as freedom loving as every other human being on the planet—but that I am condemning the regime under which they suffer, just as much as not all Germans were Nazis, or all Russians communists, or all Italians part of the Mafioso or Vietnamese part of the triads. But, as German-born, can I say that I have no difficulty in saying unequivocally that the Nazi regime deserved to be condemned. I'm just concerned that some of our witnesses have great difficulty in condemning a regime that has been responsible for millions of deaths; incarceration of millions; forced organ harvesting; illegal land grabs; ripping up of an international—UN sanctioned, even—agreement between the UK and China in relation to Hong Kong; and the list goes on.

I'm just concerned that in this great freedom-loving country of Australia, that has adopted all of us as part of its citizenry, we are unable to fully celebrate the great freedoms we have and to condemn some of the backgrounds from which we come—not courtesy of the people but courtesy of the ugly regimes that were inflicted over them.

Ms Chau : I do want to say that I think Australia should defend human rights and speak up against it, and not shy away from it. But, at the same time, I also believe that people should not need to pick sides. It is unfair on the community to expect that of people, especially if it's simply based on ethnicity and race.

Senator ABETZ: But can you not pick a side to condemn the oppressive ugliness of the communist regime in China? Why is that so difficult?

Ms Chau : From my perspective, I do not support some of the actions of—

Senator ABETZ: I'm not asking you to support, I'm asking you to unequivocally condemn. Unless we condemn these activities they'll just keep on going. It would be like somebody saying, 'I don't support the Holocaust.' No. We have to unequivocally condemn the Holocaust, and a similar situation is happening to the Uighurs under the communist regime in China. Why is it so difficult to condemn it?

Ms Chau : I'm also concerned that this is a Senate inquiry. For witnesses to publicly declare their allegiance to Australia by condemning a foreign government—this goes to the point I was making: when a person is putting their hand up for public office or speaking out publicly, they are required to make that allegiance and declare loyalty. This is unfair on the community. This is an inquiry about diaspora issues, and there are many other diaspora issues that need to be dealt with, including racism and including what I suggested before—that we need to have better civic education so people can really understand how a democracy works.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: As somebody who has been involved in multicultural activities for their whole life and over the course of a long public life, can I give you some pretty basic advice: go and read the Constitution. That's the first thing I would say to you, and the second is: there is nothing in any political party that I have ever come across, whether it's Liberals, Greens, Labor or whatever, that precludes any Australian from participating, so long as they're on the electoral roll. I think the problem here is that certain communities just don't want to participate. I have to tell you that there is an overwhelming under-desire among people from the Chinese Australian community to participate in politics. If more of them participated, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion.

CHAIR: I notice that we are running a little over. There are other committee members who wish to ask questions, and we have witnesses who have very hard time lines. Senator Abetz and Senator Fierravanti-Wells, do you think you have finished this line of questioning?

Senator ABETZ: No, I haven't, but I'm fully aware of the time, so I have no further questions.

CHAIR: Is there anything you'd like to put on notice to the witnesses?

Senator ABETZ: Not at this stage. Regrettably, I think the Hansard record will record some unfortunate responses.

CHAIR: I am going to go to Senator Sheldon and then to Senator Ayres. I'm hoping that witnesses and senators are able to be succinct, because we are going to run over.

Senator SHELDON: I thank the three witnesses for joining us today and for their submissions. It's very important that you're putting your views and positions forward. I appreciate, from the questioning before, that people have some different views, but in actual fact that's what makes a country. It is extremely important that in these inquiries we hear from people from the community. People can play a role in the community in various ways to express their views so that there's a clearer understanding of the very broad church that we have and the very broad community that we have across Australia. Ms Chau, you recommended in your submission that the government fund a Chinese community peak council. Given the diversity of views, backgrounds and experience among ethnic Chinese in Australia, how would you see that working in practice?

Ms Chau : That's exactly the reason I suggested something like that—to enable people within the community to debate issues and have the diversity in the room and also to provide training to people who might be on the board so that they can accept and have these debates in a manner which is civil. I think this would be a good opportunity for the Australian government to connect with diverse communities as well. I often tell many different government departments about the diversity of the Chinese community. It is difficult to understand where they're all coming from, but, at the same time, if you can bring them all together and they can have those discussions in a safe environment, that's when we're going to have much better debates and a better understanding of the community.

Senator SHELDON: Obviously there's a concern about outside influences, which can be present in any community, I might add. I'm from Irish stock, from both sides of the argument. There can be outside influence in any community; it doesn't particularly fall on one community. How would you be mindful that there will be some that will be influenced in one direction or another, or not, when you're looking at that diversity views in such a peak council? What are some of the practical selection processes that you think could take place to achieve a diverse peak council of the Chinese community?

Ms Chau : I haven't thought too much about exactly what the recruitment strategy would be. I could think a bit more about that and take it on notice. But I think the intent is still the same, and that is bringing diverse communities into a group. It could potentially be a large group of people, with a smaller group of people who are on the board, or there might be other methods by which we could structure the organisation so that you do have diversity. I think that, in order to have a successful group, you do need opportunities for people to have that diversity in the room.

Senator SHELDON: Thank you, Ms Chau. That's very helpful. If you could give some more thought to practical structures and processes, that would be of interest as well.

Senator AYRES: I will try and be quick. I actually think we could have spent a bit more time with this group of witnesses. I too want to thank you for your written submissions and for the discussion this morning. I think it's been interesting from a couple of perspectives. I do understand, after listening to the previous exchange, why young people from the Chinese community would be reluctant to stick their heads up and make a contribution to a Senate committee inquiry, if that's going to be the response. It made me consider your oral submission further. One of you—and I can't remember who, I'm sorry—was talking about creating a safe space for discussions within the diversity of the Chinese community, particularly amongst young people. All of the submissions dealt with the question of the diversity of the Australian Chinese community. It appears to me that there is an enormous gap in understanding, between some people in our political establishment and the different elements of the Chinese community, about the diversity of views. It seems to me it would be good for us to take some time on that. But, in the brief amount of time that we've got, could each of you reflect on how that question of diversity and different views could be more appropriately accommodated and what measures are required to give people from the Australian Chinese community confidence to participate in the public debate.

Ms Chau : I'm happy to start. I think it's important to create opportunities where debates can happen, including at the university level, where people can have a space for it can be facilitated; you can set ground rules where there should be no assumptions made, there should be no judgement and it's not a reflection of people; and it's purely based on debate arguments. Obviously there are debate rules that can be used in those situations. Start there at the university level and also put that into the community. You start from the university but then you also move that into the community so that there are opportunities and space for that to happen.

The other aspect I would add is that in the Australian media it can often be quite intimidating for a lot of young people as well. I also mention that in my submission. Young people of Chinese background should be provided with media training to enable them to deal with some of the hard questioning that they could be confronted with in the Australian media. The Australian media is not a safe space for discussions like this to happen, and therefore nuanced debate cannot happen.

Ms Jiang : I'll go next. I'll talk about how to ensure diverse views are respected in the context of current foreign interference efforts. We should protect vulnerable groups, including Uighurs and Tibetans, making sure they are as free to express their views as possible in Australia. My fear is that in our effort to counter foreign interference or counter China we may end up being more like China, and our democracy and legal institutions will suffer as a result.

I want Australia to remain liberal, to remain open and to remain democratic. The best weapons we have against foreign interference are our openness and our liberal values. We should strive for more transparency and more accountability of our parliament and the government's decision-making process. We should be more wary of the government amassing more power in the name of national security. Political donation reform is a step forward in the transparency regard. Intelligence agency raids without public explanation are very concerning, especially when they were leaked to the media in advance. Having ministers making decisions on foreign interference matters without any explanation to the public, as was the case with the revocation of visas for two Chinese academics, is also extremely problematic and goes against the ethos of transparency and accountability.

Australians need to have a clear understanding of what foreign interference actually is. We must not conflate interference with influence, as is often the case in media and public discourse. The Australian government should release clear guidelines and examples as to what actions constitute foreign interference and what are merely influence. This will help the Australian community, including Australian diaspora communities, build resilience and watch out for instances that fall into the interference category. Finally, the Australian media should also focus less on associations and links as evidence for foreign interference. Instead, the focus should be on actions and behaviours that are coercive, corrupting, deceptive and clandestine—that is to say, focus on wrongdoing instead of guilt by association. I think those steps in countering foreign interference in our foreign interference debate can help ensure that a more diverse range of views in the Chinese diaspora and in all diasporas can be heard.

Senator AYRES: Thank you for that. I suppose that's the trick in this, isn't it? It's as silly to say that it's just about measures to improve engagement with the Chinese community and not about making sure that there's confidence in dealing with foreign interference as it is to say that it's only about foreign interference and to not have regard to those civil society issues. We have to bring this approach together for the sake of Chinese Australians being able to participate effectively.

Mr Chiu : I think that it's important when we have these discussions that we treat people in good faith and make this debate less combative. I think part of the problem is that everything is misinterpreted and taken out of context, as we've seen today in this Senate hearing. I feel that I have to do things like ensure nothing I say can be misinterpreted. I want to be clear that we should highlight and call out human rights abuses in China. It's completely legitimate for people to raise concerns about foreign interference. Foreign interference shouldn't be tolerated. People should feel safe to exercise their democratic freedoms. But how we address these questions and mitigate the risks can have unintended consequences if we are not careful, and we see it right now, and not just in politics but going beyond it.

I have conversations with people who are really concerned about this debate and the impact it's having. I'm talking about public servants who are concerned about security clearances solely on the basis that they were born in China, even though they grew up in Australia. Anecdotal stories of people working in business or the public sector who are feeling a creeping distrust from colleagues. Public servants have even told me that some are worried about being portrayed as pro-China, affecting frank and fearless advice that we are getting in the national interest. These examples are not grabbing headlines but I think they're absolutely corrosive to our social fabric. None of what I'm saying is denying the genuine fear that dissidents and persecuted minorities have of the CCP or diminishes the seriousness of human rights abuses in China or the need to combat foreign interference, but I think that a lot of this debate is ignoring this other unintended fallout and we need a more holistic discussion.

Senator AYRES: Thanks, Mr Chiu.

CHAIR: Does anyone else have questions?

Senator RICE: I do. I will be quick because I know that we're over time. I want to thank the three of you for your nuanced contributions to the debate today and for sticking your head up above the parapet to be attacked. It's a very clear example of the pressures that Chinese Australians are under. I'm happy to condemn the Chinese Communist Party, and I think people are, but we don't ask every other Australian to condemn the Chinese Communist Party, and you as Chinese Australians should not be put in that position in a public Senate inquiry. We don't ask that of other Australians of other backgrounds, like for Saudi Arabian Australians to condemn the actions of Saudi Arabia every time they speak out in public.

I've got one question for you to take on notice. I'd really like to get your input into it. What needs to be in an antiracism strategy in order to address these types of quite complex issues? It's not just a matter of having Harmony Day, putting out some brochures and encouraging people to be more accepting of diverse communities. I'd really like your thoughts. Your organisations may have already put some stuff together as to what a nuanced antiracism strategy that we should be undertaking would include. Given that we are over time I'm happy for you to take it on notice. It would be a really valuable input into our inquiry.

Ms Jiang : I can take that on notice.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I thank the witnesses in this session. The committee would ask that answers to any questions that you've taken on notice be returned by Friday 6 November, so if you could do that that would be very helpful for the committee in the writing of its report. I thank you and wish you good day.