As a study focused on the experiences of political actors and elites, this dissertation has sought to interrogate the Australian political subject primarily through the lens of political candidates and representatives of Chinese and mixed-Chinese ancestry in Australia, concentrating on their experiences of legislative recruitment or in other words the critical step individuals take as they move from lower levels into parliamentary careers.
As a study of the diversity of electoral representation, legislators of Chinese descent currently constitute the only suitable Asian Australian group, with thirteen state and Federal legislators elected to office since 1988. An interest in exploring the electoral fortunes of this ethnic and cultural group aligns with change in regional geopolitics and Australia’s conditions of trade, as nations from which temporary movements and permanent migrations have been sourced, such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and others, have also emerged as major trading partners.
The study begins with a demographic analysis of Chinese populations residing in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne to 2006, highlighting the cultural and national heterogeneity of these Chinese urban populations. Drawing on interviews conducted between the start of 2005 and 2008, as well as other documentary and historical materials, it subsequently provides rich insight into the subjectivities of raced subjects in unique positions of public life. Primary sources opened a window upon the social resources deployed by representatives and candidates during the recruitment process, and perspectives about the ways political parties regarded Australian Chinese communities. Consideration of their subjectivities and values also provided important insight into Australia’s political and democratic future, a future inherently wedded to Australia’s place in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the midst of the global moment, successive Australian governments have assembled an array of social policy assumptions to recalibrate the Australian body politic. Seeking to transform a legacy that left Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and other minority populations at the peripheries of the nation, ideas about a distinctly Australian multiculturalism have circulated as the framework to ensure recognition of Australians from diverse cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds. This policy must in part be understood according to principles that seek to enshrine and deepen Australian political citizenship. Nonetheless, over the course of the last forty years, the Asia-Pacific region has also transformed. The emergence of China as an economic superpower is part of this moment, and as Australia’s focus has shifted from the United States to the Asia-Pacific region Australia’s security considerations have also impacted upon the body politic and the way Australians envision themselves. During this period Australian Chinese legislators have overwhelmingly handled homeland and transnational politics at arm’s length, and focused on their capacity to enhance transnational business and trade networks and relationships.
Where this thesis began as a political case study of an important Asian Australia group, it became a study about the contradictions inherent in theories of representation, and the dilemmas faced by a political culture that is adverse to considering its territorial sovereignty as globally dependent. In building this argument, this thesis highlights the fragility of parliamentary democracy and provides a forewarning about Australia’s democratic challenges in the twenty-first century.