The Newsletter 92 Summer 2022

Why expert Asia-related analysis is more important than ever, in Australia and the region

Cathy Harper

The eastern Melbourne suburb of Box Hill perhaps represents the future possibilities of Australia’s place within Asia and its relationship with its Asian Australian communities. It’s well-known for its concentration of Asian diaspora communities, particularly Chinese. It’s about half an hour from central Melbourne by car or train, located near a major highway and train station, with high-rise hotels and a large shopping mall. It’s also one of the State government’s designated metropolitan activity centres. Official statistics show that more than 35 percent of residents report Chinese ancestry compared with a national average of 3.9 percent. Top countries of birth of Box Hill residents (other than Australia) are China, Malaysia, and India. The residents of Box Hill are generally younger and more educated than the national average.

It’s one of the places where Australia’s immigration and other policies are being manifested in everyday life. As Professor Jia Gao argues in his essay for this section, the merit-based migration system has “not only transformed the economic structure and the demographic composition of Australia, but importantly has also changed established patterns in the distribution of employment opportunities, wealth, and political influence in Australia.”

However, in the words of Professor Vedi Hadiz, there remains a lack of appreciation for the complexities of Asia and the nuances in Australia’s connections with Asia. 1  Australia’s challenge in and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic is to find a new narrative 2  that aligns its national imperatives with a vision for how it relates to its region.

England and New Zealand continue to be major source countries of migrants to Australia, but the proportion of those born overseas who were born in China and India has increased since 2011 from six percent to 8.3 percent, and 5.6 percent to 7.4 percent respectively. International students in Australia are part of this picture. International education is, depending on the measure used, Australia’s third or fourth biggest export, behind coal, iron ore, and natural gas. Over the past two decades, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Malaysia, Korea, and Vietnam have been the main source nations of international students in Australia.

But serious analysis of Asia and Asia-related issues in Australian news and other media remains marginal. For example, 2022 research by respected think tank the Lowy Institute found that 53 percent of foreign news stories in Australia’s mainstream media about COVID-19 were about the experience in the US and UK. Southeast Asia accounted for only five percent and South Asia 1.5 percent, despite the critical situation the pandemic has caused in these nations. Research published in 2021 by academic Wanning Sun, found that tabloid media in Australia resorted to Sino-phobic positions in reporting on China’s efforts to contain COVID-19. Very recently, some media outlets owned by News Limited appear to be supporting unsubstantiated claims by a federal government minister about Beijing’s claimed preferences in relation to Australia’s upcoming federal election. A 2018 study by Deakin University – which examined media coverage of issues related to multicultural Australia – found that more than a third of stories reflected a negative view of minority communities. A 2019 report by Media Diversity Australia found that 75.6 percent of television news and current affairs presenters, commentators, and reporters were Anglo-Celtic.

Australia needs to support serious research, analysis, and discussion within Australia and from Asia, with a diversity of voices and perspectives, about the major challenges it and its neighbours face. How can Australia – and other nations in the region – better manage great power competition between China and the US? How can Australia improve its relations with Southeast Asian nations? 3  How can democratic decline be mitigated? 4  What can business do to help sustain human rights? 5  What is the state of Islam in contemporary politics? 6  How does politics influence culture and identity through regulating language learning? 7  These are issues that affect all of us.

Domestically, can Australia help overcome a surge of Sinophobia and anti-Asian racism related to COVID-19 by addressing 8  the nation’s continuing lack of “Asia-literacy?” 9  How can the conspicuous lack of Asian-Australians 10  in Australian parliaments 11  be overcome? 12  How can we better harness the cultural and economic potential of Asian diaspora communities in Australia? 13

Melbourne Asia Review, published by the Asia Institute at the University of Melbourne, gives voice to experts across the region, including in languages other than English. It bridges the gap between academia and a general audience through analysis that ‘translates’ research into context relevant to current, developing challenges. As the region and the world adjust to the cleavages wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, we need serious consideration of what our region could and should become.

The reality ­– as exemplified by the Melbourne suburb of Box Hill – is that Asia and Australia are more deeply intertwined than ever before, both between nations and within them. In a pandemic and beyond, Australia and the region need to better articulate forward-thinking ideas based on evidence, research, and considered analysis that will deeply influence the nature and trajectory of Asia and Australia and their diverse communities.


Cathy Harper is Editor of Melbourne Asia Review at the Asia Institute, The University of Melbourne. Email: