Taipei, Taiwan – When Kevin Yam moved from Hong Kong to Australia as a child in 1986, it came with a lot of baggage.
Yam recalls racist comments being part of day-to-day life in his home of Melbourne, heard in the streets, the classroom and the media.
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“There were a lot more racist jokes being told back then that would now be considered absolutely unacceptable” Yam, a lawyer and Hong Kong democracy activist, told Al Jazeera.
Travelling back and forth between Hong Kong and Australia as an adult over the years, Yam has been struck by how much Australia has changed for the better.
“Apart from your odd drunkard, the reality is there are a lot of things that are said or done towards ethnic minorities that you can never get away with, at least in the big cities in Australia, which you can in Hong Kong,” he said.
“I think there is still the occasional drunkard who would make the odd racist remark in the street but beyond that, no I haven’t had any racism. In fact, I would say that in many ways, not only is Australia much less racist than when I was growing up here, but I would say it’s less racist generally than Hong Kong.”
Yam’s experience mirrors that of Chinese-Australians more generally, according to a new survey, which shows that incidents of racism, while not uncommon, have declined during the past three years in Australia.
The proportion of Australians with Chinese heritage who reported being called offensive names fell by one-third between 2020 and 2022, the latest annual survey by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute showed on Wednesday.
While 31 percent of Australians with Chinese heritage said they experienced verbal abuse in 2020, the figure fell to 25 percent in 2021 and 21 percent last year, the Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese Communities survey showed.
According to the poll, 35 percent of respondents had an experience of being treated differently or less favourably due to their background, compared with 37 percent in 2020
And 14 percent said they had been physically threatened or attacked in 2022, down from 18 percent in 2020.
Younger people and Chinese-Australians born in Australia were slightly more likely to report negative experiences over the period, which covers the COVID-19 pandemic and elevated tensions between Australian and Chinese governments.
An overwhelming majority of respondents – 92 percent – rated Australia as a “very good place to live”, up from 77 percent in 2020 when the survey first began, with older respondents or those who had spent a considerable amount of time in Australia more positive about the country.
Three-quarters of respondents reported a “great or moderate” sense of belonging in Australia in 2022, compared with 71 percent in 2020 and 64 percent in 2021.
Chinese-Australians’ sense of attachment to China also dropped to 18 percent, from 23 percent in 2020.
Despite the drop in attachment towards China, the Chinese app WeChat remains an important source of news and was used by 47 percent of respondents, although about half said they doubted the fairness and accuracy of the information it provides.
About two-thirds said they are confident they can recognise fake news and disinformation.
The poll is based on the responses of 1,200 Australian residents who identify as being of Chinese heritage, including citizens, permanent residents and non-tourist visa holders, who were surveyed between September and December last year.
Australia is home to 1.4 million Chinese-Australians, who comprise one of the country’s largest ethnic groups.
Chinese people first immigrated to Australia in the mid-19th century but were restricted for the first half of the 20th century under the “White Australia” policy.
Race-based immigration restrictions were eased after World War II and formally abolished in the 1970s.