Greens candidate Sophia Sun says Australia has become more like China, with government business done “behind closed doors” against the public interest and popular opinion.
Sun is contesting the seat of Deakin in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs after winning 14.7 per cent of the primary vote as the Greens’ Box Hill candidate in last year’s Victorian state election.
But running as a political candidate is a long way from the environment Sun comes from. She grew up during the Cultural Revolution in Xi’an, a city in central China famous for the Terracotta Army.
Sun’s family, who she described as “not privileged”, lived with the threat of denunciation if they spoke out against the government. Sun said there were many things she could not discuss when she was a child.
As a young adult at University, Sun learned to express and debate ideas and politics. She studied horticultural science, worked as a research assistant and went on to specialise in plant breeding.
This marked the beginning of her interest in environmental and human health.
“I learned a lot about soil, environment and plant pathology. Plant systems are very similar to human systems … environment and human health are connected.”
Sun says she and her husband left China in 1995. She lived in New Zealand before coming to Australia under the skilled migration program. Sun’s university degree helped her obtain a visa, but her qualification was not recognised by Australian research institutes.
Unable to continue working in horticultural research, Sun started a series of small businesses to support her family and “to survive”.
Sun says the last business was a small boutique clothing shop in St Kilda called Touchworld, which she ran from 2009 to 2014.
The Australian Business Register shows that Sun cancelled her GST registration in 2015, consistent with closing Touchworld. She re-registered for GST in January 2017.
Sun said working in St Kilda she saw homelessness and other societal problems, having been mostly insulated from them in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. She said she wanted to find a way to help society other than only paying taxes.
After closing down her shop in 2014 – Sun says she gave the unsold stock to charity – she began volunteering at Manna Care, a council-run residential aged care organisation.
Sun credits her teenage son with introducing her to the Greens some time after she’d begun volunteering.
She said she ran in last year’s state election because the Greens wanted a woman candidate who could represent the seat’s cultural and linguistic diversity.
“I thought this was a chance to express my values.”
Her policy priorities are government transparency and education.
She says the Government’s support for the controversial Adani Carmichael coal mine, against scientific advice and widespread community opposition, reminds her of China.
“I’m really worried. Is the Government listening to the public or do they just want to do deals behind closed doors?”
She says Canberra should consult the public on major decisions and political donations from large companies should be banned.
Improving public education is also important to Sun.
“High-quality education is our major challenge. If we’re not educating [our citizens], we’ve lost our dignity.
“Two years ago, I went to my local public school and I was shocked when I saw the school’s yard, classroom and even their facilities.
“I couldn’t believe in this so-called wealthy, developed country how a public school could look like that.”
Sun visited the school twice more during her state election campaign last year. She said the principal’s office had 1950s air conditioning, which caused health problems.