19 February, 2020

The Hon. J.S. LEE(15:29): Today I rise to speak about the coronavirus and the terrible impact it is having on the Asian-Australian community in South Australia. Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, it has had a devastating impact in China as well as in 29 other countries, including Australia. 

Coronavirus is not just a health issue alone but a social harmony issue, as well as an economic issue for Australia. Restaurants, shopping precincts and Chinatown precincts run by Chinese-Australians across our country are reporting significant drops in trade and traffic in recent weeks.  

It is not helpful at all that there are shocking levels of racism in the community after the coronavirus outbreak. 

Our Chinese community in South Australia and, more broadly, the Asian-Australian community was upset and offended by headlines published on the front pages of The Daily Telegraphstating 'China Kids Stay Home' and the Herald Sunbranding the virus as 'Chinese virus,' which indirectly suggests that the virus affects only the Chinese community or those with Chinese ancestry. There is no medical evidence to support this argument as the virus does not discriminate! 

When Chinese-looking kids - imagine those young school-aged children (many Australian born, many who have never been to China during the outbreak) - attend schools, imagine how heartbreaking and upsetting it is for them when suddenly their schoolmates and other kids do not play with them anymore. What makes matters worse is the prejudicial behaviour from other parents demanding that the schools shut the doors on these Australian-Chinese kids. That is disappointing and unreasonable! 

Recently someone posted on WeChat, a Chinese social media platform, a picture of a Harvey Norman store displaying an A-frame with the words 'No coronavirus in our mattresses, as ours are Australian made.'  

This type of comment, along with others, is inappropriate, insensitive and scientifically incorrect. These comments are seen by many in the Asian-Chinese community as disgraceful, racially discriminatory and triggering an 'us versus them' mentality. This is disruptive to social harmony in our society. 

There were awful people out there spreading fake news about the coronavirus to instil fear and incite hatred and racism against community members. Even though we believe in the freedom of the press, that does not mean the press should agitate people and cause one section of our community to be antagonistic towards the other, particularly when Australia is a diverse multicultural society and we have multilateral and intercultural relationships with China, Asia and the world. 

It saddens me that the coronavirus exposes the ugly side of racism. Unfortunately, xenophobia has been intertwined with public health discourse for a very long time. Australian-Asian people are experiencing instances of xenophobic harassment, racist comments and misconceptions about coronavirus. 

In response to the call by traders and businesses in Adelaide's Chinatown, the Premier, the Hon. Steven Marshall, the Minister for Health and Wellbeing, the Hon. Stephen Wade, together with the Chief Public Health Officer, SA Health, went to Chinatown and had dinner with community leaders, sending a positive message that Chinatown is safe to visit.  

When traders in Chinatown are suffering the loss of business due to the fear of coronavirus, all of us feel a sense of responsibility to show our support and help eliminate the misconceptions associated with the virus.  

I have been visiting our Chinatown precinct continuously since the outbreak. Many SAMEAC members joined me for dinner last week. I returned the following night to have dinner with friends to support restaurants and traders around the Chinatown precinct.  

Throughout these difficult times I have witnessed the Chinese community united behind traders and businesses in Chinatown.  

I want to express my sincere thanks to the president and the committee of the Chinatown Adelaide Association together with 20 other Chinese community associations for their strong leadership and continuous efforts to engage with government representatives such as the Premier, the Health Minister, Federal Minister Birmingham, the Consul-General Madam He, and today with His Excellency the Governor and myself to tour the Chinatown precinct and visit various grocery stores, food courts, restaurants and traders. 

Every multicultural city needs a vibrant Chinatown. We must do everything possible to ensure that people know that Chinatown is safe to visit, and to support businesses and traders during these very tough and challenging times! 


POSTSCRIPT: The Assistant Minister’s speech has received coverage on ABC Breakfast Radio and Triple J Radio on Friday 21st February 2020. The Assistant Minister has also received a number of messages from constituents and Chinatown traders thanking her for calling out racism and offensive language in the Australian media and thanking her for her continual support of Chinatown businesses and the South Australian Chinese community.