More than four in five Asian-Australians experienced discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic and were more likely to lose work hours and experience anxiety than other groups, according to a new study from The Australian National University (ANU).
Of the 3,000 people surveyed, 84.5% of Asian-Australians reported at least one instance of discrimination between January and October 2020, a slight increase compared to 82% in August 2019.
ANU Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership (CAAL) director Jieh-Yung Lo, who co-authored the study, said many people didn’t realise that level of racism existed before COVID-19.
He said increasing the number of Asian-Australians in senior leadership positions was one of the best ways to change perceptions and break down stereotypes.
“It empowers Asian-Australians knowing someone who looks like them, who has similar experiences, can serve at such a high-level position.
“It creates a sense of belonging and increases confidence, and it strengthens appreciation of what Australia could give them if there was a level playing field.”
Mr Lo said he hoped the appointment of Elizabeth Lee as leader of the Canberra Liberals – the first Asian-Australian woman to lead a major political party – would send a message to the rest of Australia.
“It’s history-making and it does increase interest and participation amongst groups that may not be interested in politics, and may not be as vocal in politics,” he said.
“It has a lot of value to strengthening democracy. I wish her all the best and it’s very exciting for Canberra.”
Despite having lived in Australia his whole life Mr Lo said he regularly experienced racism because people still saw him as a foreigner based on his appearance.
More than 1,500 people participated in the second Asian-Australian Leadership Summit last week and Mr Lo said it was an overwhelming strong endorsement for diversity.
“The energy is there, the support is there, all we need now is leaders, decision makers, to make cultural diversity a priority alongside gender, and alongside Indigenous reconciliation.”
Study co-author, Professor Nicholas Biddle said the report also contained some good news – despite an increase in discrimination, social cohesion has improved during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The study found that participants’ beliefs that Australians were trustworthy, fair and helpful all increased from February to April 2020.
“What is perhaps more interesting though is that Australians are more likely to think that Asian-Australians can be trusted, are fair, and are helpful than they are to think the same thing of Anglo-Australians,” he said.