Parishes, schools and agencies

Anglicans meet their local MP, the first Chinese person elected to federal parliament

On 23 June, a group of Anglicans gathered in a Blackburn South home to interview the recently-elected federal member for Chisholm, Ms Gladys Liu. The election of Gladys Liu is significant as she is the first federal MP of Chinese background, having been raised in Hong Kong before coming to Australia to study speech therapy and then settle here 34 years ago.

By Robert Culhane

July 5 2019

Event organiser the Revd Dr Chris Mulherin with federal member for Chisholm Ms Gladys Liu.

The electorate of Chisholm, which is located in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, has approximately 20 per cent of its population from mainland China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam and Korea. The meeting was arranged and led by Melbourne Anglican the Revd Dr Chris Mulherin, with 25 people attending, from people in their late teens to retirees. What was quite evident among the invited audience was their deep engagement with Australian politics and their informed opinions which were by no means monochrome or representing one end of the political spectrum.

Gladys began explaining why and how she became interested in politics which led her eventually to serve as a staff member for Ted Baillieu and then in his office when he became Premier of Victoria. She highlighted the different and sometimes quite demanding expectations placed on her by the Chinese expat community, particularly concerning Australia’s relationship with China and the recent Hong Kong demonstrations.

Following her engaging personal story, Chris Mulherin asked the younger cohort what issues were of a concern to them and how Gladys would be responding as an MP. This gave the younger generation the opportunity to raise issues which might not have been heard once the older and more professionally trained attendees had their chance. Of concern to the younger audience was the environment, global warming and the need by our government to respond to the various international agreements on climate change. This led to a lively response by Gladys on the diversity of opinion within the Liberal Party on this issue, and its determination to deal with it. She emphasised that even within her own party, let alone the rest of parliament, respect and a willingness to listen to others is paramount and something she believed was important as much for her, as it is for her own party, given its recent history. This was warmly endorsed by those present who expressed disappointment with the revolving door of prime ministers over the past 10 years.

The issue of the refugees remaining on Manus Island and Nauru was raised, as well as the provision of stable electricity generation in Victoria due to increasing reliance on old power stations. A discussion about renewables and nuclear power was canvassed. A perception of bias in the media and by the ABC was also considered; the issue of our taxation system and growing inequality and need of increased social housing (although normally a state issue), were also discussed. The hot button issue of freedom of religion and freedom of speech by Christians about their beliefs when they differ from the values of a secular society was carefully considered by many in the room. Throughout the meeting Gladys made notes and responded warmly and thoughtfully to the questions and resulting discussion.

The evening highlighted that there are many Christians thinking deeply about political and ethical issues which are being debated and legislated by our parliaments and are looking for a way to engage in the political dialogue. The opportunity to meet our new member underlined the demanding role politicians have and their genuine desire to serve our country as an expression of their gratitude for the opportunities they have received as a migrant or refugee. Her freshness and candour about the realities of our political processes, and the difficult issues which often divide us, won the respect of the audience. The meeting concluded with prayer led by Bishop John Harrower and others.

If you are interested in sponsoring a meeting with your local politician, Chris Mulherin would be happy to be contacted about how he organised the meeting. He can be reached by email at ChrisMulherin@iscast.org.

The Revd Robert Culhane is priest at St Edward’s Blackburn South.