Professor PooKong Kee
Director of Asia Institute
By Karina Foo
Australia faces a steady growing population of Asians and it seems to have welcomed this culture as part of its own. In Melbourne’s CBD, you’ll observe that almost half of the people are Asians – most are university students or young working adults residing in the city.
Director of Asia Institute, Professor PooKong Kee has observed this in his years of research in studying the population migration starting from the early years of Australia’s growing cultural diversity.
“There are around 12-13% of Asian Immigrants in Australia now. If you include Asian born Australians, the total population percentage of Asians in the country is 20% – and growing. In ratio, there are more Asians here than in the US or Canada,” he said.
This research is close to his heart as Kee, a prominent researcher, is also an Asian migrant born in Johore and spent his university years and most of his career in Australia including Adelaide and Canberra.
His recent teachings and research interests include the causes, processes and consequences of the global movement of people, Asian Diasporas, and Asian-Pacific affairs generally.
“You cannot have a thriving culture if you reject Asia as you will not cultivate that relationship that is so important for the growth of your country.”
One of his more recent research has sparked the interest of many, including property investor and mogul, Jason Yeap who helped to fund part of Kee’s study.
“We wanted to look at the first, second and third generation Australians as well as new migrants. The main purpose is to find out if this population sector are adequately represented in the society. Yeap’s personal interest is studying this population within the public sector which includes public services, educational institutions and hospitals,” explained Kee.
Kee made a major discovery in his research showing that Asians might not be well represented in certain areas.
“For example, the bulk of students in most universities doing medical courses are Asians, but you don’t see many Asians occupying top positions in Australian hospitals,” he said.
This has unfolded plenty of questions on his part and continues to find the answer to this big discrepancy between the number of top Asian students and top positions in the health and medical industry.
When asked if this could be the result of racism, Kee said it was possible, but emphasised that today’s racism is targeted mostly towards the Muslim community.
“This may be due to mainstream media and the news we’re exposed to on social media. For Australia, the 1970’s saw the first arrival of the “boat people”. A very highly regarded and prominent historian from the University of Melbourne sparked a series of negative comments on whether Australia was able to accommodate these new arrivals.
“This started years of long and heated discussions about the potential problems of Asian migration and that opened up the context for politicians like Pauline Hanson to get on board to side with such an issue,” said Kee.
But over time, he also remarked that Asians in particularly the Chinese, are perceived as an influential group.
Anglo to Asian
South East Asians and the Chinese have used Australia as an education and tourist destination over 30 years ago and continues on today. While the Anglo Australian still remains in power, things are slowly changing. Despite Anglo Australians still holding top positions in the medical field, there are many Asians who are also working their way to the top as assistants, nurses and doctors.
Kee pointed out that this gradual shift has also been observed in other industries like law, accountancy and finance. Three decades ago, Australia was a country that was a true reflection of the Northern European Anglo countries, but these days, it has become more of a multicultural diverse hub – leaning more towards the exposure of Asian communities.
Former Prime Minister John Howard was the first major politician who started a close relationship with China and that got the ball rolling for Australia – Asian relations.
“It may hold true that Asians coming into Australia does raise the bar in terms of education and scores as many Asian families send their children for extra tuition (coaching) and attaining higher marks than their peers as a result.
Many Australians realise that the future of the country does rely heavily on Asia and Asians. You cannot have a thriving culture if you reject Asia as you will not cultivate that relationship that is so important for the growth of your country,” said Kee.
This is a positive sign that Australia has come to accept the influx of Asian migrants and as the years go by, there will only be more progress of collaboration and acceptance.