Earlier in February the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a warning to students about traveling to Australia due to personal safety reasons, claiming there had been “successive vicious incidents of overseas students being attacked in many places in Australia”.

“Denying the fact or making condemnation statements will not address the core issue of racism”

The warning was dismissed by the Australian government as ‘disinformation’ while university representatives responded by saying they were distressed by the claims and that they had taken steps to ensure their campuses were a safe place.

NSW Convenor of the AAA Thomson Ch’ng said those types of responses were unhelpful and indicated the federal government and those universities are either in denial or out of touch with what’s happening in the community.

“It is the role of the Chinese government to provide that duty of care to their fellow citizens who are coming here to Australia to study. Denying the fact or making condemnation statements will not address the core issue of racism which is rooted deep in this country,” Ch’ng said.

Ch’ng pointed to two pieces of research that he said is evidence that there is a problem in Australia. The first is an online tracker which was developed by research fellow Osmond Chiu at Think Tank in conjunction with the AAA.

It has received in excess of 500 reports of incidents of anti-Asian racism in Australia since April last year. 15% of the victims were international students.

“We really want to address this issue [of racism] and evidence based advocacy is the way to go. [The tracker] was absolutely necessary because most of the time when there are reports of racist incidents, it has always been dismissed as an isolated incident and I think it is important to have a set of data to actually understand the situations.”

Of those incidents recorded through the tracker most happened in public places and were perpetuated by mostly strangers. 90% of victims did not report to police.

The second is a report by All Together Now which examined the media’s role in perpetuating racist sentiment, particularly during the pandemic. It found up to 90% of opinion pieces published by NewsCorp (one of the biggest news conglomerates in Australia) negatively portrayed communities, while overall Muslim peoples and Chinese or Chinese-Australian peoples were the most common targets of negative pieces.

Ch’ng said that it is even more concerning given previous research done by the Australian Communication and Media Authority that showed the majority of people do not differentiate between opinion pieces and actual news articles.

A follow up survey is now being done to understand how media is being consumed amongst the Asian Australian community, including international students.

“It will help paint a clearer picture between that and how the current issues of media diversity/ media racism are impacting on the issues right now,” said Ch’ng.

Along with the work of the AAA, the Australian Human Rights Commission has ­developed a new framework to co-ordinate public and private sector efforts to combat racism and is in discussions with the federal government to secure support and funding. The nation’s previous anti-racism strategy expired in 2015.

When it comes to the international education sector’s role Ch’ng said it needs to be more outward looking, not just focussing on what happens within their institutions.

“It is great to know that universities and stakeholders in the education sector are trying to do something to actually address the issues on campus.

“Are we doing enough to work… to educate international students on how to prevent things from happening”

“The point I’m trying to make is, are we doing enough to work with the stakeholders in the community, whether it is the police force, whether it is a larger community organisations, to actually help not just to raise awareness about issues of racism, but also to educate students and particularly international students on how to prevent things from happening. I think we need to be a little bit more holistic.”

Ch’ng acknowledged that international student wellbeing is a big and complex issue that can’t be addressed by the international education sector alone but he also believes that if Australia is going to continue to promote itself as a destination of choice for students it must act, and now.

“If the issues continue to happen and we’re not able to support existing and current international international students who are in Australia at the moment, then what is the point of opening up the borders to get more international students, which will result in issues such as these to continuing to happen?”

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