Dr Peter Wong
The emergence of One Nation as a political movement was a rude shock to people who believe in multiculturalism. For one man, in particular, it precipitated a radical career change, when – as Dr
Peter Wong told Chris Hook – his daughter challenged him to form a political party.
Pauline Hanson’s election to Federal Parliament and the subsequent support enjoyed by One Nation in the
1998 Queensland elections were cause for some concern, says Dr Peter Wong.
People were “worried about what would happen to Australia”, he says.
“I remember one night we had a family discussion and my
daughter told me: ‘I think we should form a political party’.
“I said: ‘That will kill me; I’m already 56 years’ old.’
“My daughter said: ‘Dad, you always talk about principle and integrity’.
“So I thought hard about it and prayed hard that night and sought guidance, because I thought I couldn’t do it by myself, because I knew nothing.”
Within days, he was joined by people from various ethnic
communities, people with the expertise and motivation to establish a party that would support, uphold and promote the principle of multiculturalism.
It was and is called Unity and it was registered as an
official political party just weeks before the 1998 Federal election.
Unity failed to have anyone elected in that first poll.
But it made a significant impression in the NSW State elections the next
“I’d like to thank the Good Lord for his guidance and strength” was how Dr Peter Wong began his “thank you” list in his maiden speech to the NSW Legislative Council.
Now the party is
gearing for more success in this year’s federal election, in which it plans to field about 90 candidates.
This is important, says Dr Wong, in maintaining the principle of multiculturalism in the public
domain. It also raises the profile of the political process among the many ethnic groups who have yet to see one of their number in Parliament.
The good doctor’s prayers seeking guidance and his tribute to
God in his maiden speech are evidence of his commitment to the Catholic Church.
But it was not always so.
Peter Wong was born in China in 1942, but fled the country with his family when he was
For the next ten years they lived in Indonesia, where Peter – though not yet a Catholic – attended a Catholic school.
The first time he prayed was when he was about 14. “My grandfather
was very ill,” he recalls. “I prayed that if my grandfather got well I’d become a Catholic.
”But my grandfather did not get well; he died two days later. But the interesting thing was that just a day before
he died he wanted to get baptised a Catholic … then our whole family were baptised as Catholic as a result of his death.”
Peter Wong later came to Australia where he was sponsored by the Church and was able
to study Pharmacy and Medicine at Sydney University.
He married in 1971 and, soon afterwards, began to practise medicine.
But, at this stage, other members of his family were converting away from
Catholicism. Dr Wong was forced to examine his faith.
“For a while I started to question my faith,” he says. “Am I believing the right thing? Do I really know my faith at all?
“So I started to look at
the Bible and listen to tapes … and I came back to the Church and started to help organise Sunday Mass and since then I’ve been involved with catechism teaching, the choir on Sundays and – together with many
families – started the Chinese Catholic community.”
Dr Wong notes that many families are quite literally ecumenical these days. But he doesn’t find other Christian paths as illuminating as the one he has
“There’s a totally different feeling when you come to a Catholic church,” he says. “The atmosphere in front of the sacraments is totally different from a Protestant church. I’m not condemning them.
This is just my personal feeling.
“The serenity, the sense of holiness of the house of the Lord – it’s quite different.”
Dr Wong is quick to point out that he has worked extensively with other
churches in a wide range of roles.
During the 1970s, he was active in resettling Indo-Chinese refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. In 1990 Dr Wong liaised closely with church groups, the Hawke
Government and the Federal Opposition to help protect Chinese students in the wake of the 1989 Tienanmen Massacre.
And Dr Wong has served the broader multicultural community in a wide variety of ways,
including founding the Australian Chinese Charity Foundation, heading up the Ethnic Schools Board, sitting on the Ethnic Affairs Commission and advising around 20 volunteer organisations.
Then came the arrival of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation party.
“Obviously many in the ethnic community, and Anglo-Saxon people, were worried about what would happen to Australia,” he recalls. “So, although
I was a card-carrying member of the Liberal Party, I thought something needed to be done to correct that very extremist attitude towards migrant and Aboriginal people.
“Looking back, I don’t think John
Howard understood the feelings of the migrant community at that time. That’s unfortunate. He probably thought Hanson would go away, but she didn’t go away.”
Unity, he says, is also strongly against the
Federal Government’s policy on immigration and, particularly, refugees.
“We don’t believe you should put refugees behind barbed wire,” he says. “We don’t believe genuine refugees should be given
tranquillisers – in contrast, they should be given torture and trauma counselling.
“We believe that women and children should be among their own community so they can be looked after. We believe genuine
refugees should be accepted as Christian principle.
“Remember that Jesus Christ himself was a refugee.”
Unity, he says, wants Australia to be “a socially just society” in which the underprivileged
receive more support.
“We’re talking about equal outcomes, not equal opportunity,” he adds. “So if we give equal opportunity to the Aboriginal people, or the people who live out west (Sydney), they’d still
never be equal.
‘“For the same reasons we criticise Bob Carr’s government for their treatment of people in south-western Sydney, in Cabramatta or, for that matter, in Mt Druitt or Campbelltown.
seeing second generation, third generation unemployed, which is totally undesirable.
“If the drug problem happened in the North Shore, I’m sure Bob Carr would do something immediately. However, simply because
it’s in Mt Druitt, Cabramatta, we can close our eyes. We don’t have to listen.”
Perhaps the answer lies in committed political participation.
Unity certainly hopes to encourage that.