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Labor pulls out the race card in bid to win over Chinese

Jason Yat-Sen Li, Labor candidate for Bennelong.

Jason Yat-Sen Li, Labor candidate for Bennelong. Photo: Sasha Woolley

Rudd's phone call to Li was based on several links. 

There are many successful Chinese-Australians but for reasons I never have been able to fully understand, the media plucked Jason Yat-Sen Li from the loaded ranks of the talented Chinese and made him a celebrity. His profile reached its peak in 1999, when he was in his 20s, during the referendum campaign for a republic. Li was a cheerleader for the republic vote, which was roundly defeated and lost in every state.

Suddenly, 14 years later, at age 41, Li has popped up again, and once again the media has tagged him a ''celebrity'', this time as the Labor candidate for the conspicuous marginal seat of Bennelong, where the Howard era came to an ignominious end in 2007. John Howard didn't know when to quit; the voters of Bennelong dealt ruthlessly with his vanity. They were ruthless with Julia Gillard, too, in 2010, when the seat went back to the Liberals.

When Kevin Rudd was preparing his return and his revenge this year, Bennelong, his trophy seat in 2007, was a natural target, with a narrow 3 per cent majority for the Liberal incumbent, John Alexander. It is also a seat with a heavy concentration of Asian voters - 28 per cent, mostly Chinese. After the original Labor candidate had to withdraw over matters related to ICAC, Rudd looked almost 9000 kilometres away for his candidate. He called Li in Beijing.

During the 2007 campaign, Labor shamelessly played the race card in Bennelong against Howard, emphasising Rudd's fluency in Mandarin, his links to China and his Chinese son-in-law. In a book about the 2007 campaign waged by former ABC journalist Maxine McKew, The Battle For Bennelong, journalist Margot Saville was given such access to McKew's campaign that on election day she was in the candidate's home when McKew was still in her pyjamas.

Saville writes about encountering ''a crack team of Chinese and Korean-speaking 20-somethings sent in by ALP head office''. Her book has numerous examples of the race-conscious strategy Labor deployed. Six years later, Rudd is playing the race card in Bennelong with bare-knuckled determination.

His candidate has deployed different calibrations when he speaks to the mainstream media and the Chinese media. This has been noticed by Chinese members of the Liberal Party, which has been translating stories from the Chinese-language media. In a recent edition of the Australian Chinese Daily, a translation reads: ''Local business leaders give all-out support to Jason Li and promise they will fund his campaign unlimited. So far, he has raised $400,000 in funding.

''Li said if he could gain over 60 per cent of Chinese votes he can win this campaign, become the first Chinese member in the House of Representatives, and let Chinese communities' voices be heard.

''Li said he is born and grew up in Australia, speaking fluent English, Mandarin and Cantonese. He knows the needs of both the mainstream of Australia society and Chinese communities, and has experiences in facilitating trade between Australia and China. If he can be the federal member for Bennelong he can be the bridge between Australia society and Chinese community. This will significantly benefit the Chinese communities in political, economic, cultural and social aspects.''

The campaign material on Li's election website also requires translation even though it is in English:

''I am a Sydney boy who was born and grew up in the suburbs.''

Translation: I've been parachuted into this seat by Labor.

''We will buy a home in the electorate and we care about the cost of living.''

Translation: I have never lived in the electorate.

''I am an entrepreneur running three companies that I founded.''

Translation: I am not running any company right now because I am running for Parliament.

One day Li was in Beijing, where he has a consultancy advising Australian companies doing business with China, and the next he was in Eastwood, door-knocking, making calls and doing interviews. Rudd's phone call to Li was based on several links, most obviously their mutual backgrounds dealing with China. Li's wife Lucy is a friend of Rudd's daughter Jessica. Jessica's husband, Albert Tse, an immigrant from Hong Kong, is a lawyer and banker, and the men know each other. Li also has a brother-in-law who has a chemist shop in the electorate.

Just as Li has leveraged his Chinese background and language to seek business opportunities in China, Australia's largest trading partner, he is now leveraging his ethnicity, this time in politics. Some Chinese voters in Bennelong will probably vote for Li because he is Chinese. Some non-Chinese voters may vote against him for the same reason, regarding him as a parachutist from Beijing. Most voters, especially those with mortgages, family plans and small businesses, will look beyond race and at policy, and the record of six years of Rudd-Gillard government.

Twitter: @Paul_Sheehan_

167 comments

  • Yes Paul
    Shocking example of racism.
    So shocking, that you, helpfully, decided to translate is website for us ( even though in English), just so the voters know the true meaning of the statements.
    Thanks Paul, YOU just cant trust those Chinese to be truthful, can YOU.?
    ( But, as Paul tells us, its not him who is being racist. )

    Commenter
    LeftyRoy
    Location
    Cydnee
    Date and time
    August 29, 2013, 6:15AM
    • More a commentary on duplicity and smoke and mirrors than racism.

      But.

      Play the card anyway.

      Labor values.

      Commenter
      Louis Cypher
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 6:38AM
    • John Alexander could not get the BLUEST of all blue-ribbon seat that Paul Fletcher got- my electorate. So Alexander had to COME DOWN to get a seat further WEST which must have hurt his pride a bit. Now we also know that he was not even a Northshorite but from Eastern Suburbs.

      So Alexander would not know anyone to get nominated for the seat? Gee, I thought politics was all about net-working. No wonder Paul Sheehan is not in politics- not enough networking, MATE.

      I listened for the first time both Alexander and Li's conversations on ABC 702 yesterday morning. Alexander is clearly not as articulate as Li. Li also seems have very fast brains too.

      Li once worked as the spokesman for the Auto industry or Auto-user group in China. If he was a spoeksman for the Auto industry it would mean that he knows a bit about industries which would be good.

      Racist card was used by John Howard in the late 1980's. Live with the sword, die with the sword. Fair is fair.

      Why is that SMH employs someone like Paul Sheehan who is obvious in this article that he has something against Chinese and Asian in general.......

      Commenter
      JJ
      Location
      Hornsby
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 6:49AM
    • Yes K Rudd is playing the Chinese race card to get votes. I am not speaking for Chinese or China. But those in the Chinese Community who are politically conscious would know that K Rudd is an unreliable person, to put it mildly.

      He claimed to be an old friend of China because he speak fluent Chinese. But Wikileaks had exposed him as asking Hillary Clinton and USA to prepare for war with China. Does he not understand that China and USA are now like co-joined Siamese twins in economics and world power and that war between these two countries spell the end of the world.

      There is a Super Power Strategy known as MAD equals Mutually Assured Destruction which means war between Super Power will be the end of the World. The closest the world had a nuclear war was during the Cuban Crisis over Russian missiles.. There is not great strategic reason for war between China and USA. There are strong differences between China and USA but China has in fact been very restrained and it is prepared to wait a long time for Taiwan to return to China as was clear in the words of Mao to President Nixon in 1972.

      Commenter
      Dr B S Goh
      Location
      Australian in Asia
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 6:55AM
    • I believe Paul has pulled the race card here.

      Commenter
      Francis Allen
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 7:22AM
    • What the hell is this article about? I've read it a few times and I still can't work it out. Is it that he's Chinese , therefore he's a good / bad candidate? Or that the major parties are trying to get votes by cynically deploying a Chinese candidate in a seat with a high Chinese population?
      I note that last election the Coalition deployed a tennis player in a seat where tennis is popular - was that cynical?

      Commenter
      Fjordblue
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 7:52AM
    • The last thing we need are candidates with these credentials when it's obvious to all right thinking voters that a white middle class former tennis player is much better suited. Yat-sen Li is immediate past Vice Chair of the Australia-China Chamber of Commerce in Beijing and formerly Youth Chair of the NSW Ethnic Communities Council, as well as cultural spokesperson for NSW Tourism during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. He was also a Director of the Sydney Institute, the National Centre for Volunteering and the New South Wales Government’s Sydney Metropolitan Strategy Group. He speaks fluent Mandarin, Cantonese, German and Dutch. He started his career as an M&A lawyer in Australia. Jason is a partner and founder of the Yatsen Group, a commercial group headquartered in Beijing with interests in mining & resources, technology and financial services businesses in Asia.

      Commenter
      fred
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 8:02AM
    • Yes, it was a ridiculous story and headline Leftyroy. Good comment JJ. Li seems to be the kind of candidate both Labor and the parliament needs. Heck, people go on about lack of quality candidates and criticise Labor for "union hacks", but when people like Li put their hand up, people like Sheehan find some sort of sinister angle!

      Wish I could vote for him (I'm close to boundary of Bennelong). But here in Hockey-land I have no idea who the Labor candidate is...or whether there is one!

      Commenter
      Passionfruit
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 8:14AM
    • Your hypocrisy is showing Paul. Alexander was 'parachuted' into Bennelong. And with his murky business past and all. But as we all know, regressives aren't to be held to account for such things like Labor is by you and your ilk.

      Commenter
      eyeroll
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 8:14AM
    • fred - "He speaks fluent Mandarin, Cantonese, German and Dutch" - can he also "walk on water"? Bottom line is he chose to live in Beijing rather than Australia. Why does he suddenly want to be an Australian MP?

      Commenter
      hbloz
      Date and time
      August 29, 2013, 8:22AM

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