What does Chinese New Year have to do with Australia Day? Confected outrage

Sports Writer

Depending on who you consult,the Year of the Dragon is said to bring opportunities,changes and challenges,or maybe evolution,improvement and abundance. What even the most abstract reading of the Chinese zodiac could not have foreseen is the Lunar New Year being weaponised in a culture war. Yet here we are.

The Asian community in Australia typically keeps a low public profile. With the exceptions of year 12 results day,a restaurant review or being in a marginal electorate at election time,there is usually little reason for us to make the news.

Performers mark the Lunar New Year in Federation Square.

Performers mark the Lunar New Year in Federation Square.Meredith O’Shea

So you can imagine I just about choked on my New Year’s dinner leftovers when on Monday I discovered Tom Elliott on 3AW Melbourne using the Lunar New Year to whip up outrage over Australia Day.

The reason for Elliott jumping on the offence bandwagon? Politicians,corporations and sporting clubs who,while respecting Australia Day as a celebration for some,expressed their empathy with First Nations people,but then later wished Asian Australians a safe,healthy and happy Lunar,or Chinese,New Year. Oh,the humanity.

“It’s really beginning to anger me how many people talk down Australia Day,” Elliott said,more than two weeks after the national day. “They say it’s evil,it’s Invasion Day,we need to change the date,we shouldn’t celebrate it. But they’re happy to recognise important days for other cultures,not our own.”

Elliott was joined by News Corp’s Rita Panahi,who drew a tenuous link between the New Year celebration and China’s human rights abuses,as if the Chinese diaspora in Australia should be held accountable for the actions of a government they cannot elect.

You have to make quite a leap to link the Australia Day debate to the Lunar New Year,so perhaps that’s why these commentators go on long rants,getting more and more breathless with rage with every stride.

Even during the peak of Pauline Hanson in the late 1990s,dragon dances,red envelopes and firecrackers were not this politically charged.

Have Asian Australians been waging war on the national day? That’s news to me,unless the Chinese characters adorning the walls of restaurants actually mean “always was,always will be” or “change the date” instead of “stir fried pipis in XO sauce” or,my favourite,“eel and roast pork in clay pot”.

Sure,many Asian Australians hold views on whether Australia Day should remain on January 26,but we have largely kept our counsel on the issue,so leave us be. I’m no expert on what each dish symbolises over Lunar New Year,but I do know that political hot potatoes have no place on the menu.

What concerns me is language used by populist politicians and some people in the media that stokes division and anti-Asian sentiment by implying Asian Australians are not Australian.

Take a pair of social media posts on X from national Senator Ralph Babet,of Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party,whose victory in the 2022 election was,according to the ABC’s elections guru Antony Green,due to the strong flow of preferences from One Nation.

The first,on January 12,came two weeks before Australia Day:

“Woolworths,no problem celebrating CHINESE NEW YEAR[his caps,not mine]. But Australia Day though? Don’t be silly.”

Performers for Lunar New Year on stage at Federation Square in 2017.

Performers for Lunar New Year on stage at Federation Square in 2017.Meredith O’Shea

And then on Saturday,the day of the Lunar New Year:

“North Melbourne Football Club refused to celebrate Australia Day but today they have come out in support of Chinese New Year. Un-Australian.”

You can see the common thread. Un-Australian. It’s “our” Australia Day,but the Lunar New Year is for the “other”. Never mind that the Lunar New Year was first celebrated on these shores as early as the 1850s during the gold rush,about 80 years before Australia Day was instituted.

Why shouldn’t the occasion be seen as a part of the fabric of modern multicultural Australia?

Any Australian of colour who comes from a non-English-speaking background is likely to have been made to feel at some time or other like they are a foreigner in their country of birth. And that a white person fresh off flight QF2 from London to Sydney will be regarded as being more Australian than them.

Given the proximity of Australia Day to the Lunar New Year,which falls on January 29 next year,it’s unfortunate and yet predictable that ranting populists will seek to mar a special time for Asian Australians.

Like the animals on our nation’s coat of arms,I won’t be taking a backward step on this issue. If you take pride in a multicultural Australia,you shouldn’t either.

Andrew Wu is a staff reporter.

Get a weekly wrap of views that will challenge,champion and inform your own.Sign up for our Opinion newsletter.

Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Age

Most Viewed in National