Hong Kong-born Wesa Chau is a Labor candidate in the Australian federal election

Upbringing in Australia led Hong Kong-born Labor candidate Wesa Chau to stand for election

Hong Kong-born Australian Wesa Chau Wai-sum, 31, who is a Labor candidate in Australia's federal election, in Causeway Bay. Photo: May Tse

Hong Kong-born Australian Wesa Chau Wai-sum, 31, who is a Labor candidate in Australia's federal election, in Causeway Bay. Photo: May Tse

Growing up in Hong Kong, Wesa Chau Wai-sum never thought she would enter the world of politics. But a move to Australia when she was seven changed all that.

Now 31, Chau is hoping to become Australia's first Asian-born member of the House of Representatives, running as a candidate for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's ruling Labor Party in the September 7 federal election.

Penny Wong, born in Malaysia, was elected to the Australian Senate in 2002 and became the first Asian-born cabinet minister.

Chau is contesting the seat of Higgins, in Melbourne, a stronghold of the opposition Liberal Party for decades. It is an uphill battle, but she is not showing signs of strain.

"I'm not nervous," Chau said during a recent trip to Hong Kong to visit her parents.

She said her decision to go into politics came more from her Australian upbringing than her Chinese roots.

"I don't think my growing up in Hong Kong had anything to do with it, and if it did, it was probably in a negative way because people in Hong Kong don't like politics," she said.

"My dad says that in politics, regardless of what you do, you will always get criticised, even if you do a good job."

Chau says that her parents were initially wary, but that she now has their full support.

"I'm actually very excited," she said. "I believe there needs to be more Chinese people in parliament to represent the Chinese diaspora living in Australia."

There were about one million Australians from a Chinese background, close to 90,000 of whom were born in Hong Kong, Chau said.

Before her move into politics, Chau spent years fighting for the interests of international students in Australia while studying for her engineering degree at the University of Melbourne.

In 2002, she founded the Australian Federation of International Students, an organisation that advocates better conditions for international students in the state of Victoria, such as access to private housing and transport concessions.

"People find it quite surprising because cheaper transport is almost a universal benefit as a student, but that's not true in Sydney and Melbourne," Chau said.

She said that in Melbourne, Chinese students made up about a third of the international student population. "A lot of my friends were international students and so I got to understand what the issues were," she said.

She now works as director of a consultancy that advises businesses and government on issues of culture and diversity.

Chau has been on the hustings for the past few weeks and will ramp up her campaign as the election drive enters its final days.

"Among Chinese people, I will be more Australian," she says. "And if I'm with Australians, I will be more Chinese because I like bringing a different point of view to the table. I'm quite comfortable with that."

As of last night, 2,161 Australians in Hong Kong had voted, 23 per cent more than after the first week of early voting in 2010.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: A penchant for politics Down Under

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