Jenny Leong responds to racism in the NSW Parliament

Jenny Leong responds to racism in the NSW Parliament, on 24 May 2023:


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (16:32): I contribute to this public interest debate and express the dismay that I think the member for Strathfield and others have expressed in relation to the fact that there is very little about this public interest debate that is in the public interest. It is very clear and very disappointing to see in the Chamber today actions that have demonstrated that the intention of Opposition members, as a result of being put on the Opposition benches, is to punch down, attempt to whip up really offensive behaviour, and behave in a way that demonstrates their insecurity at the loss of their power and influence by trying to intimidate and have an impact on other members in the Chamber.

I share solidarity with the member for Strathfield in recognition that my family also worked in catering. My dad, as an international student, after studying to be an accountant, decided that he could make more money starting a restaurant with his mates. They used to enjoy going to the markets in Adelaide. They would buy the squid which Australian folks would buy as bait—it was very cheap at that stage—and have feasts, as they were struggling to make ends meet in the restaurant industry. I also worked in catering as a hospitality staff person to pay my way through my studies. I recall that I wrote an academic paper for theCourt of Conscience journal of the University of New South Wales on the inequality of the pandemic and the impact that it had. I wrote in the conclusion:

In my workplace, the New South Wales Parliament, most of the people who look like me and those who reflect the real diversity of our community are actually not those sitting in the Chamber. They are the ones serving the food, cleaning the offices and keeping things moving day-to-day.

The reflection that I make on the comments made earlier by the shadow Minister for Multiculturalism, the former Minister for Multiculturalism, is that we would do well in this Chamber to reflect the diversity of the people who work in catering in this building. It is a great pleasure to see, following the election this year, that when people make racist comments in this Chamber, we can have a mini caucus just outside; it is not the Chamber looking to me alone and wondering whether I will call out the racism. That is a credit to many people in the community who have got behind and backed in to ensure that our parliaments are starting to reflect the diversity of our community. Whether someone makes a racist joke or a racist flippant remark, it is still racism, and the racism sticks and lingers; it infects people's public perception.

In our role, as members of Parliament, we could and should hold our public perceptions strong. It is for no member of this place to determine how we put ourselves forward as representatives in this place. While it might be well and good for someone to stand up and apologise in this place, the impact that that racist remark has on that member in the long term, into all the Google searches, all of the records, all of the discussions, and the impact it has on their community and their family is real. I know this all too well—the member for Bankstown and I have discussed it before—because the main time we get a media scrum is when someone is a racist pig to us, basically, and then everyone is interested in knowing what we have to say.

When the police trolled my public Facebook page after I had been a member for a short period of time, they wrote the most disgraceful and disgusting things about my family, about my father and about me. For years after that, every time any media story came up, in any of the searches, results would come up showing the most offensive and vile things about my dad which were quoted in those media stories. You cannot take that back with an apology. The impact of that lasts.

I urge every member of this place to think about what they are saying, and to think about what they are taking away. What they are doing is taking away people's ability to participate in this Chamber as equals. They are taking away our ability to behave as we want to behave without being tainted by whether we will be angry, whether we will be enraged or whether we will be upset and hurt by the actions that are taken. Members will note that the member for Strathfield and I—and he does a much better job at it than I do—have been very measured and calm in this debate. I can speak only for myself to say that my rage and my hurt at what was said in this Chamber today is so strong—but if I come in here and yell, I will be further marginalised, so I have to put on my nice and reasonable voice to face the racists that continue to try to stop us from participating in society.

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