A petition calling for national unity and an end to anti-Asian racism brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has been started by a group of high-profile Asian-Australians.

The petition is being spearheaded by 16 prominent Asian-Australians from the nation’s arts, finance and medical sectors, including chef Adam Liaw, writer Benjamin Law, former Australian of the Year John Yu, and businessman Jason Yat-Sen Li.

The group intends to send the ‘#UnityOverFear’ petition to Prime Minister Scott Morrison for tabling in parliament.

The petition came after the group wrote an open letter on 8 March, asking “for fairness in our national debate, our media reporting and in our communities” as Australia confronts the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Li, chairman of investment company Vantage Asia Holdings, said racism against Asian-Australians had increased as anxiety over COVID-19 did likewise.

“I think the vast majority of Australians are tremendously warm and welcoming people, but unfortunately it’s a small, vocal, nasty minority that’s whipping up this stuff,” he told SBS News.

“We’ve heard reports of everything ranging from people having uncomfortable conversations to people getting verbally abused and then even physically assaulted and abused.”

These 16 Asian-Australians all signed an open letter deploring increased reports of racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These 16 Asian-Australians all signed an open letter deploring increased reports of racism during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Since the coronavirus outbreak began, incidents of racism against people of Asian appearance have been reported around the world.

Asian-Australians have reported being publicly accused of spreading COVID-19 and abused on public transport.

Last week, a survey was launched for people who experience anti-Asian racism in Australia during the COVID-19 outbreak to report it.

Mr Li said anti-Chinese rhetoric from powerful figures such as United States President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as “the Chinese virus”, has been unhelpful.

“This is not the time to be divisive. It’s really the time to pull together and to get through this, so social cohesion and national unity are really more important than ever,” he said. 

“I totally get that you’re feeling fearful, feeling anxious, but please don’t take it out on our fellow citizens. Please don’t take it out on Chinese-Australians or Asian-Australians.

“We are loyal citizens and we’re just as Australian as anyone else.”

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus