As of November 14, 2017, Penny Wong has been a hero to many Australians. That day, 61.6 percent voted in favor of same-sex marriage in a referendum.
For years, Wong, the first openly gay MP in Australia’s parliament, had campaigned for marriage for all. When the result was announced, she burst into tears and celebrated with her partner.
Today, Wong is not only a symbol of the queer scene, the 53-year-old is Australia’s most powerful woman. She is Secretary of State in the cabinet of new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Your tasks are challenging: Wong is supposed to improve the very bad Australian-Chinese relations and at the same time strengthen the role as a bulwark of the western democracies in the Pacific region.
She is always trusted: Many experts see her as the real leader of the government. She is seen as having more foreign policy experience than her boss, and as having strong nerves and determination. In March she was also voted Australia’s favorite politician.
Her career is one of those rising stars that Australians love as much as Americans do. Even if it started far away from Down Under.
Penelope Ying-Yen Wong was born in 1968 in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, in northern Borneo. Her father is Malaysian of Chinese descent and her mother is Australian. Wong did not return to his mother’s homeland until he was eight years old, after his parents divorced.
In an autobiographical text, she describes the first time in the metropolis of Adelaide as a “shock”. She and her brother were the only Asians in their neighborhood and felt like animals in a zoo.
“For the first time, I realized that other people notice my origins, that it’s an issue,” recalls Wong. She tried to counter the exclusion with performance. “I wanted to be better than those who called me names.” And she was better.
She studied law, was involved in the union and the Social Democratic Labor Party, and became a member of parliament in Canberra for the first time in 2002.
But while she was making a career, her brother was broken by Australian racism. “People are different. And he was more vulnerable and gentle. It’s a wonderful thing, but it makes it harder in our world,” she writes in her autobiography. Toby Wong died in 2001 at the age of 30.
But all of these experiences, according to Wong, would help her as a politician today. “I just learned very early on how to deal with the negative. In the end, things are no different in politics than in the schoolyard.”
What used to be the troublemaker from the neighboring class may now be China for them. Relations between Canberra and Beijing have been virtually frozen for years. Shortly before the Australian parliamentary elections in mid-May, the defense minister at the time – and now leader of the opposition – spoke of preparing for war.
The Conflict: China is working to extend its supremacy to the Pacific. Until now, Australia had mostly regarded the region as a matter of course as its own backyard and had not dealt with the island states there on an equal footing for a long time.
But even now, in her first days in office, Wong is showing that this is about to change. She visited different Pacific states twice.
After all, they had just spoken out against an agreement proposed by Beijing, with which China wanted to secure better access to resources or locations for military bases. In return, Tonga, Fiji and Samoa now expect more help from Australia – also in dealing with the consequences of climate change.
Wong, after all Climate Change Minister herself from 2007 to 2010, has already apologized for the “lost years” and speaks demonstratively of the “Pacific family”. To which China does not belong from their point of view.
At the same time as Wong, China’s foreign minister is also visiting the region. The power struggle is in full swing. Or as Wong put it in a speech: “A race for influence.” And if her life story has shown the Chinese one thing, it’s that: Australia’s new foreign minister is not going to give up easily.