From Sabah to Aussie Senate
By Neville D'Cruz
MELBOURNE: When Penny Wong Ying Yen left her hometown Kota
Kinabalu in 1977 as an eight-year-old to study in Adelaide, politics was never in her
But that changed in her teens and today, 26 years later,
she breathes, talks and thinks politics.
And by sheer dedication and perseverance, she achieved the
remarkable honour of being Australias first Asian-born federal politician when she
took her seat in the Australian Senate in Canberra for the first time in July.
Wong was elected to the Senate under the banner of the
Australian Labor Party for South Australia at the federal election in November. She will
serve a six-year term.
Wong has come a long way since her childhood in Sabah when
her late paternal grandmother (Poh Poh) Lai Fung Shim played a key role in shaping the
lives of all those around her.
Poh Poh was a diminutive woman, with an indomitable
spirit. A Hakka, she was my grandfathers second wife. They lived in Sandakan. Most
of the family died during World War II and my grandmother was left alone to care for my
father and his siblings in unspeakable circumstances, said Wong.
She did this through extraordinary determination and
a will to survive. She was barely literate, but she was humble and compassionate, and the
strongest person I have ever known, she said.
Wong said it was her grandmothers compassion that
would always be the guiding light in her political career.
In her first speech to the Senate last month, Senator Wong
said compassion must be at the heart of any truly civilised society and must be the
underlying principle, the core value at the heart of our collective consciousness.
Those with power should act with compassion for those
who have less. And that the experience of those who are marginalised cannot be bypassed or
ignored or minimised as it so often is.
Wongs father, Francis Wong Yit Shing, an architect,
who lives in Kota Kinabalu, initially came to Australia under a Colombo Plan scholarship
in the 60s.
It was in Adelaide that he met his future wife, Jane
Wong said in an interview that from an early age, politics
held a prominent position in her household, and racism shaped her commitment to social
She studied law and arts at the University of Adelaide
after winning a scholarship to the prestigious Scotch College.
Wong laments the Howard governments lack of
leadership and compassion to create a cohesive and equitable Australia and said Australia
was in danger of being swamped by prejudice.
She said that it was time for Australia to reclaim
the phrase One Nation from former political maverick Pauline
Hanson and replaced its unsavoury undertones of racism with the traditional Australian
principle of a fair go for all.
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