Johnson Partners Diversity Series – Philip Le Liu

Philip Le Liu was the Public Sector & Government Category Winner of the 2019 40 Under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards.

Crazy Rich Asians is a movie that explores the cultural and societal challenges facing multiple generations in the affluent Asian communities of Singapore. One memorable scene involves a game of mah-jong between two of the main characters, one in the role of ‘East’ representing the tradition of Asia and the other in ‘West’ representing those who have migrated and been educated in the western culture. In the middle sits number of discarded bamboo tiles, scattered alongside the tiles for ‘East’ and ‘West’ but not truly part of either. This scene has significant meaning for Philip Le Liu, as it highlights the difficulties 1.2 million people with Chinese heritage face in Australia.

As a young Asian-Australian with an understanding of both Chinese and Australian culture, Philip has leveraged this to his advantage in his career, but more importantly, helped bridge the gap between the two cultures in the areas of people and community.

After graduating from Monash University where he was awarded membership to the Golden Key Society for high achieving students, Philip spent five years with Ernst & Young in its Melbourne Advisory division. Longing for something different, he moved to Beijing’s Zhongguancun (China’s Silicon Valley) in 2015 to explore the start-up scene, and had his first taste of becoming an entrepreneur. While in China, he studied at Peking University and became the country General Manager for the DFAT sponsored not-for-profit Australia China Youth Association, which he is still involved with today.

In 2016, at 32 years old, Philip was elected to the City of Melbourne Council, and was one of very few with Chinese heritage to be elected. Due to his age, it was hard for many in the Chinese community to take him seriously as it is Chinese tradition to respect your elders, not the other way around. Regardless of this, Philip demonstrated his commitment to his community by working tirelessly to serve the people of Melbourne and has earned the respect of many who consider him a current and future leader.

Philip followed his passion in choosing the areas he wanted to focus on at Council. He formed and chaired the inaugural International Engagement portfolio, and became the deputy chair of the Knowledge portfolio as well as the Arts, Culture and Heritage portfolio. He is also a member of the Audit and Risk committee overseeing the Council’s $620 million budget, and has various other committee and board appointments. Philip has become a trusted adviser to many in the business community and government sector. He regularly speaks on key issues in the media and has been invited to numerous panels and discussion groups on various industries and topics.

In 2018, the Municipal Association of Victoria selected Philip to participate in the Cranlana Program Executive Colloquium for leadership and decision making. He was the only person in the group with an Asian background and also the youngest.

Philip was surprised and honoured to be one of the inaugural 40 under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australians diaspora in 2019, and winner of the Public Sector/Government category.

Philip has been involved in many successful initiatives in his four years on Council. During his tenure, Melbourne’s global student ranking has increased from fifth to third and is the best in Australia, the G-Step program links international students with start-up companies to improve career readiness and increase resources in start-up ecosystems, Melbourne Fashion Week now has its first ever Asian themed segment, with more Asian models in the event generally, and Council has implemented mobile payment solutions, used by Chinese tourists, for local buskers and tourism hotspots.

Philip is passionate about furthering diversity and inclusion. His community work involves connecting organisations and people, and creating opportunities for Chinese and Asians to contribute. This includes organising the recent donation of over 15,000 masks and sanitisers for the Victorian SES, facilitating financial donations to community groups, building closer relationships between the Victorian Police and the Asian community, and creating volunteering opportunities at the City of Melbourne.

The Victorian Local Council Elections are in full swing this month, and this year has seen a record number of Asian-Australians running as candidates. Philip has been helping these candidates with tips and advice, along with running his own re-election campaign. Philip knows that these candidates, if elected, will give back so much to their communities. He finds it very rewarding to assist them in their quest for election, and hopes many of them will be successful.

The Chinese community has been part of Australia for more than 200 years. Since 2018, Victoria has had the largest Chinese population in Australia, yet there has never been a Chinese Australian elected to the Victorian State Parliament. Chinese Australians are so underrepresented in politics compared with the general population in all levels of government, and given the current climate of fear and distrust, it will be even harder for this to happen in the near future.

Philip hopes there will be a greater level of support and inclusion for Asian-Australians, as genuine inclusion is very challenging in a protectionist world. The concept is not really discussed or considered fully, and it is a very difficult road, as we are separated by nationality, culture, colour, status, and a more divided and protectionist approach.

When asked about his thoughts on the current Australia China issue, Philip focused on a particular area – the plight of many Chinese and Asian international students who came to Australia to get an education and find a new home. Philip expressed his concerns about the treatment of all international students and lack of support for them during Covid-19. In April 2020, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison alarmed many when he announced that international students should go home during the pandemic, creating panic and fear. In response, Philip publicly contradicted that advice and successfully moved a motion that made Melbourne City Council the first government at any level in Australia to pledge financial support for international students and publicly welcome them to stay.

One of the initiatives that came out of that pledge was the ‘Our Shout’ food voucher program where vulnerable international students receive a $200 food voucher to spend on food at the Queen Victoria Markets. Initially designed for 1,000 students, over 17,000 students applied in just 36 hours and the lines were so long that they encircled the whole Town Hall block for days. Recently Philip successfully declared a ‘Business and Jobs’ emergency at Melbourne City Council to highlight the exclusion of funding for sole traders and small businesses in certain postcodes.

Philip enjoys working on initiatives where he can create impact and positive influence, while at the same time give back to society. He is currently involved in an exciting new start-up, launching next year, which he hopes will really disrupt the market and give the people the chance to explore all of Australia.

Being an Asian-Australian is about learning, finding your roots and finding your home. Philip greatly appreciates his 40 under 40: Most Influential Asian-Australian award, is proud to be part of a group of amazing people rich in history and culture, and has a message for the future winners – we are mere custodians of this rich story that is being told and our role is to help and nurture the next generation so more of us can benefit from it. Philip hopes the next group will take on the challenge of mentoring, promoting and encouraging other Asian-Australians to step up and help to make a real difference.

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