Nearly 20 Asian-Australian Labor party members, including three current councillors, have signed a statement opposing Michael Daley’s bid to return as New South Wales Labor leader, saying he had failed to adequately learn from his 2019 comments about “Asians with PhDs”.
Daley, who led Labor to the 2019 state election, was widely criticised when footage emerged of him saying that “young people from typically Asia with PhDs” were replacing “our young children’’.
On Sunday, Daley announced that he would seek to return as leader after the resignation of Jodi McKay on Friday.
Asked about his 2019 comments, Daley said there was “no point denying I made a few mistakes”.
“I’ve learned from my mistakes the hard way and I’ve thought about them more than you could imagine,” he said. “Some of the things that I said and did in that campaign, I can guarantee you will never happen again.”
But Kun Huang, a councillor at the Cumberland City Council in western Sydney, said that Daley’s comments on Sunday showed he had not “learned from the past”, and this would harm Labor’s vote in multicultural electorates.
Eighteen members of NSW Labor, including councillor Ernest Chan from Burwood Council and councillor Suman Saha, also from Cumberland City Council, have co-signed a statement opposing Daley’s leadership tilt.
The statement said Daley’s 2019 comments “damaged Labor’s credibility and trust with Asian-Australians” and a second Daley leadership would “undermine our electoral potential and cause further division in the multicultural communities we represent”.
Daley said at the time: “Our young children will flee and who are they being replaced with? They are being replaced by young people from typically Asia with PhDs … our kids are moving out and foreigners are moving in and taking their jobs.”
He added: “It’s not a bad thing because Asian kids are coming to work here, it’s a bad thing because I’d like my daughter to live in Maroubra rather than St Kilda.”
He later told media he was “referring to housing affordability in Sydney”.
But Huang said Daley’s comments about jobs and housing were not backed up with any evidence.
“There is no data to show that all the jobs are being taken by ‘Asians with PhDs’,” he told Guardian Australia. “If you look at it, in senior management positions, there is a lack of diversity.”
Huang said that in Daley’s responses to questions on Sunday about the comments, he did not explain what was wrong about them.
“In his comments on Sunday he basically said: ‘I have learned from the past, I regret the things I have said. I have learned from my mistake.’ But he never pointed out what he had learned. Nor has he pointed out what was the mistake.
“Looking back at the past 12 months, we have been accused of stealing the [personal protective equipment] and stealing milk powder, and accused of being the reason property prices are going up.”
Osmond Chiu, a NSW Labor member and researcher at the Per Capita thinktank, said while the focus had been on Labor’s issues in the Hunter region, the party was also in danger of losing votes in multicultural seats.
“There has been a lot of focus on seats like the Hunter … but given reports that [federal seats] Greenway and Parramatta will be target seats for the Coalition, it is important that Labor takes multicultural seats seriously,’’ he said. “It is an electoral imperative if it wants to hold government.”
Chiu said that Labor’s support in those seats had been taken for granted.
“People are forgetting about them, because a lot of these seats have historically been held by Labor,” he said. “There has been a lot of commentary about Labor’s loss of blue-collar and regional voters, and it is in the media every day. But we don’t have anybody talking about this other issue. It was flagged in the Labor party 2019 state and federal reviews, but it hasn’t seen as much airtime.
“There aren’t as many voices from culturally diverse backgrounds discussing it in Australian politics. We don’t have an MP talking about it. We have an MP talking about the Hunter constantly.”
Daley’s opponent for the Labor leadership is Kogarah MP Chris Minns, who also challenged McKay in 2019.
Chiu said the statement against Daley was not factionally motivated, pointing out that he voted against Minns, and for McKay, in the 2019 NSW Labor leadership contest.
“It’s not going along traditional factional lines,” he said. He added that the leadership contest itself “seems to be based on feelings about [NSW Labor headquarters] Sussex Street.”
Chiu said he was willing to vote for Daley if he did adequately apologise.
“I would reconsider it if he can show contrition and that he genuinely gets it – I am always happy for people to learn from their mistakes,” he said.
“[But] I think the last 24 hours has shown that Daley hasn’t really learned from those mistakes.
“He seems to be reflecting on the impacts of his actions on his own political career … He hasn’t demonstrated why he understands what he said was so hurtful and racist … he framed people of Asian heritage as an other, that was not really Australian.
“He has had two years to reflect on what he said. And he still couldn’t get it right.”