MasterChef judge Melissa Leong says Australia is “very far from where we need to be” in terms of cultural inclusivity, after Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Minister Alan Tudge pointed to her role on the show as a sign of the nation’s diversity.
Speaking to News.com.au on Wednesday, Leong said she was proud to play a role in the “changing face of diversity and inclusivity in Australian media,” but said the nation has a lot of work to do.
Citing the cultural representation of Indigenous Australia, the differently abled, and the LGBTQ community, Leong said, “it is clear that we all need and deserve to feel seen and be heard.
“It is my hope in these difficult times that we can and will bring about lasting and positive change in this regard.”
Her comment came as a response to Tudge’s appearance on Sky News, where he was asked about China’s warning that Australia is an unsafe place for international students to study on account of racist discrimination.
“Even when you look at pop culture, some of the most successful and popular people have got a more diverse background, such as on MasterChef at the moment, which is the most popular TV show, where one of the judges is Chinese – has an ethnic Chinese background – and many of the contestants, who are hugely popular,” Tudge said.
Tudge pointed to the show as evidence of how Australia welcomes migrants “for who they are and their contribution to our great country, and that is the way I hope Australia will always be.”
Leong was born in Sydney to Singaporean parents, and her grandparents were from China. In a separate statement provided to News.com.au, a spokesperson said Leong was “fine” with being described as ethnically Chinese.
MasterChef has been praised for its casting choices in the latest season, for celebrating of Asian-Australian chefs, and for highlighting the broader contributions of migrants to Australia’s culture.
But just yesterday, MasterChef contestant Sarah Tiong said a Triple M Sunraysia radio host greeted her by saying “ni hao ma”, calling the incident a clear incidence of racism and an “insensitive, tone deaf thing to say.”
Commenting on the incident, Leong said it “illustrates how deep rooted racial toxicity is in this country, and anyone with a voice in media should know better.”
MasterChef‘s premiere came just months after government health authorities were forced to dismiss rumours and conspiracies tying coronavirus outbreaks to suburbs with large migrant communities.
The show is also backlit by protests against the deaths of Indigenous deaths in custody, and broader civil unrest over the death of US man George Floyd.
“I think there has been many high-profile incidences of racism against people of Asian backgrounds,” Tudge said on Sky News.
“But I think those incidences are the actions of the tiny minority of cowardly idiots in Australia.”