Wesa Chau—from campaign FB site—link in doc

By Georgie Moore
11 July 2013

The first piece on Higgins: Costello country: Higgins by @gemoo4

This is the first of a series of Q&As, where I talk personal and party politics with the candidates for the Higgins electorate. Next, I will speak with Greens candidate James Harrison.

Georgie: So Wesa, how did you get into politics?

Chau: I’ve actually joined the party since 2004. So it’s been a while and I’ve been doing a lot of activities around community work. I’ve been doing a little bit of community work and through that, I get you know, an understanding of how the political system works.

Georgie: In what kind of community work were you involved?

Chau: In 2002, I started the Australian Federation of International Students (AFIS) and that was to assist international students understand Australia a bit more and also bridge the gap between the two groups of people. And then I was awarded the Young Victorian of the Year in 2010 mainly for that work and I also started working for ADEC, Action on Disability within Ethnic Communities… which works with people with disability from ethnic communities.

Georgie: Getting into politics, why did you join the ALP?

Chau: Well I joined the ALP because, when I do my work within the community, I see a lot of difficulties from people from very different backgrounds and policies of the ALP actually assist a lot of those people.

Georgie: To what particular policies are you referring?

Chau: Well, in terms of international students, because I founded the [AFIS] organisation in 2002. And throughout that time there was a few initiatives that were taking [place] at the time of the Labor Government in support of international students.

Georgie: What were those initiatives?

Chau: The establishment of the international student care services and also just money in terms of supporting international students during their study as well. I guess that was the main reason. And also at the time it was the Labor politicians who were quite interested to assist. We also tried talking to some of the Liberal politicians at the time as well but they weren’t really that interested. I guess that’s what really inspired me in terms of which party to join.

Georgie: What made you run for the seat of Higgins?

Chau: I thought it’d be good to run because this [past] few years, there has been a lot of things that I see that I thought, you know really should be changed.

Georgie: What kind of things?

Chau: Well, first of all, as you know, the lack of women voices. And I’ve been a strong advocate on that as well.

Georgie: The current member for Higgins is a woman. So what makes you say there are a lack of female voices in the seat?

Chau: Well, not in the seat, but in politics in general. So I wasn’t looking at Kelly O’Dwyer and saying “I want to challenge her”. It was more the fact that both within the Liberals—more so in the Liberals—but also in the Labor Party, that we don’t have a strong female voice and diverse voice as well. We’re not just talking about women; we’re talking also about people with disability, as well as people from diverse background.

Georgie: Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Chau: I came from Hong Kong. I came with my parents in 89. So, when I was seven at the time, with my sister [and] basically our whole family migrated here.

Georgie: Do you see yourself as adding to the political diversity of which you speak?

Chau: Oh, absolutely. Yeah—being, you know, female as well as being Asian.

Georgie: You have spoken about your passion for helping international students. Is this reflective of any difficulties you experienced when you first came to Australia?

Chau: It was mainly driven by the fact that I, when I first came, it was very difficult to settle—just not knowing what to do and going to school and [you] don’t have any friends and feeling a bit of isolation. And then, obviously, you know, you get settled down. And it’s much easier when you’re a bit younger as well, because the schools actually assist as well. But when I started at university [University of Melbourne, Engineering and Commerce], I had a lot of international student friends. And so I saw their difficulties. And it’s much harder for them because they don’t have family here. At least when I was young, I had my family with me. So I guess having that experience and then having a lot of friends who I saw actually struggle a lot made me decide to start the organisation.

Georgie: Moving on, Higgins is one of Victoria’s safest Liberal seats. What do you think your chances with the candidacy are?

Chau: Higgins is a non-held [Labor] seat. But at the same time, I mean, when we talk about very safe Liberal seats, the margin is only 5.4{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3}—so not very, very high. And between every election, approximately 30{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} of people who shift move into the electorate. So we’ve got a lot of new people. And also, after the 2010 redistribution, Carnegie was added to Higgins. So, if you talk about chance of winning, Higgins is becoming marginal, that’s for sure. And that’s what our aim is.

Georgie: So, you disagree with this idea Higgins is one of Victoria’s safest Liberal seats?

Chau: I would say it’s definitely becoming more marginal and they [the Liberals] definitely have to lift their game in order to maintain it. So I think that margin is definitely reducing.

Georgie: How much of the seat do you expect to gain this year?

Chau: I wouldn’t put a percentage on it, but [I] definitely want to increase the number of primary votes and reduce the margin… especially around the Prahran area, the Windsor area, [and] the Carnegie areas. That’s my aim.

Georgie: Why those areas?

Chau: Well those are traditionally more Labor-leaning areas. Also, they’re younger areas as well. So they’re the people that I can really relate to and, yeah, there are actually a lot of young people who now live in Windsor and Prahran and [that] type of area because of the university.

Georgie: In the 2010 election, The Greens saw a seven percent swing in their favour [in the seat of Higgins]. How threatened do you feel by the Greens candidacy this time around?

Chau: Well, obviously, you know, a lot of people now are voting Greens. At the same time though, it’s important to understand that if you both have a look at the Liberals and the Greens, they don’t have a lot of real policies. So, if you are really thinking about how to run the country, I don’t think people are just going to vote for the Greens just for the sake of it. There will still be a lot of people who are looking at real policies, real reforms and will vote accordingly.

Georgie: How do you think Kevin Rudd’s leadership revival will impact your performance in Higgins?

Chau: I wouldn’t necessarily talk about leadership because, I mean, you can look at the poll data but who knows whether it’s accurate. The important thing is what’s going to happen on polling day.

Georgie: The polls are often an indicator of what will happen on polling day.

Chau: It could be but it’s not necessarily accurate. So my aim is to make sure I run a good campaign and make sure the messages from the Labor Party get out there to the community—regardless of who the leader is.

Georgie: Did you support Julia Gillard until the leadership spill?

Chau: I joined the Labor party because of the party, not because of whoever the leader is. Because, the leader changes every couple of years. That’s just the nature of any political parties. I’m there to stand for Labor values, not because of Gillard or Kevin Rudd.

Georgie: Did you want Gillard to retain the ALP leadership?

Chau: It’s not about who’s in leadership. And it really doesn’t matter who the leader is. The important thing is to get the messages from the Labor party out in the community.

Georgie: But do you feel the recent Rudd victory and the concurrent turnabout in Labor polls will help you do this?

Chau: For me, it’s not necessarily about who’s the leader. It’s about getting out to the community and tell people what the Labor values are and that’s what I will continue doing—regardless of who the leader is.

Georgie: What is your campaign game plan?

Chau: There’ll be a big mix of what we’re going to do. We’ve just had a forum on disability and we’ll have more forums coming up as well. We’ll be on the street talking to residents and we had a couple of street stalls already. We’ll be door knocking and letter boxing and going to various railway stations. Just getting out to the community and really talk to people.

Georgie: Moving on, you support Rainbow Labor [for same-sex marriage], don’t you?

Chau: I’m not officially part of it, but I support it.

Georgie: Have you always supported same-sex marriage?

Chau: Well, I’ve always supported equality, and I think same-sex marriage is part of that belief. So, it’s just one of those things that I believe should be treated equality.

Georgie: Going to a key election issue—asylum seekers—which has been particularly interesting since Rudd regained Prime Ministership, what is your position on asylum seekers arriving in Australia via boat?

Chau: In terms of what should be done, I think it’s difficult for us sitting here to say what should be done. Because, it’s a very complex issue where you have people who are fleeing for their lives, which should be treated in a humane way. At the same time, you can’t just open all your borders and say, “you’re most welcome to come”. That’s not going to work either. And so it’s really hard for us without the relevant information to make that judgement.

Georgie: To what “relevant information” are you referring?

Chau: The numbers of people who are arriving, the situation of those people. You know, the actual processing details. How it’s done… Because, it’s not that easy. I mean, if you have a look at paperwork from some countries, it might not be very accurate on those people. And that needs to be taken into consideration as well… So there are a lot of considerations that need to happen. And it’s hard to make a call for us who don’t really understand the sector that well, to be saying well this needs to be done or that needs to be done.

Georgie: If you do not understand such a high national priority, what makes you feel qualified to act as a representative for the seat of Higgins?

Chau: When I said I don’t understand the actual issue, what I mean is, I don’t have the actual information, right. You’re asking for very detail information and you’re expecting me to agree and disagree with something when I don’t have the information at hand. That’s unfair.

Georgie: When you talk about required information, it brings to mind the ‘No Advantage’ policy where processing of asylum seekers ceased last August. Do you support a system where asylum seekers are left to sit in processing camps?

Chau: In terms of um the timeline of asylum seekers, I’m more supportive of doing anything as quickly as possible you know. For me it’s about efficiency. But it’d be interesting to know why it’s been set there.

Georgie: The policy was born out of the Government’s response to the Houston Report. So is that not at odds with your view of getting people through the system as quickly as possible?

Chau: Well look, you’re asking a candidate without the relevant information. I’m not the Minister…. I’m actually speaking to our community about what I believe in. And I believe in fair treatment. I believe in equality, whatever that could mean.

Georgie: But you said you supported getting asylum seekers through the system as soon as possible. Does that mean you don’t support your party’s no advantage policy where processing of asylum seekers ceased in August 2012?

Chau: I believe in what I believe in.

Georgie: Which is?

Chau: In terms of what you’re asking about, as I said, I don’t have the information. There might be a reason why the party decides that. I believe in getting people through as quickly as possible. But, at the same time, it could mean that the—it doesn’t necessarily mean the policy is wrong. But the policy is determined because of the information they have got, right.

Georgie: But going from the information we’ve talked about. So what is your view?

Chau: Well, look, there’s no point talking about this. This could change tomorrow, OK. You can continue asking me questions, but the problem is the, as you know… the Prime Minister might change it tomorrow. There’s no point really talking about it.

Georgie: Do you support Rudd’s increasingly hardline stance on asylum seekers arriving via boat?

Chau: Well as I said previously, I mean, it’s hard for us to make that call because we don’t have all the information. And it’d almost like saying, “well do you believe in something” when you really don’t have the information in front of you.

Georgie: What is your position on Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s comments that the majority of asylum seekers arriving in Australia via boat, particularly from places such as Iran, are “economic migrants”?

Chau: Well as I said, you know, I don’t have the information to make a proper comment on it because I don’t know who are coming by boats. I’m not there to count them. I’m not there to ask them where they’re from and why they’re here. So it’s impossible, in fact, to say well are they economic migrants or genuine refugees or even business migrants. Who knows?

Georgie: Do you believe “economic migrants”, to use the popular phrase, are not “genuine” asylum seekers?

Chau: Look, I’ve said I don’t want to answer questions in relation to this because I’m not the Minister and I don’t have the information at hand to answer those questions.

Georgie: Moving on to another hot election topic, what is you position on anthropogenic [human-induced] climate change?

Chau: Well, personally, for me, I think we need to ensure that our earth is sustainable, that to ensure that we actually protect it and to, you know, do whatever we can in order to basically reduce carbon emissions.

Georgie: Would you support the carbon price as it currently stands or would you favour a move to an emissions trading scheme?

Chau: If you have a look at the current carbon price, it’s actually working. So I don’t see any reason whatsoever why we should be changing. And it’s actually reducing emissions now, so it’s obviously working. So I think we should retain it.

Georgie: Coming back to local politics, what issues do you think most concern the people of Higgins?

Chau: Well, the feedback that I’ve been getting from people, when I’m out on the street, they’re really concerned about their children’s future. A lot of them are talking about education for their kids, jobs for their kids.

Georgie: That raises an interesting point, because almost all the schools in the seat of Higgins are private. Is that something that you’d like to see change?

Chau: Well there is currently no Government high schools, that’s for sure.

Georgie: There is actually the selective boys State school, Melbourne High, in the City of Stonnington. But would you like to see more non-government schools?

Chau: Well absolutely. I mean, some of the people who talk to me said, you know, it’s hard to find school for their kids and they don’t necessarily want to go to an independent school because the school fees are too expensive. So I think there needs to be a bit more balance.

Georgie: If you won, would you be pushing for the construction of another State high school in the seat?

Chau: If there’s a site for it and if there are enough people that need it, absolutely.

Georgie: Just before we finish up, and given the expected [electoral] trajectory of Higgins, I want to know what is next for you politically.

Chau: At the moment I actually run my own business [Cultural Intelligence]. So, I work as a consultant doing training in terms of cross-cultural understanding—so cultural awareness, cultural competency, that area. I do research as well.

Georgie: So what is next for you after the election?

Chau: I’ll still be running my business… And if there’s another opportunity, I might run again. But that really all depends.

Read More:
Wesa Chau Facebook page
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