Former multicultural minister apologises for allegedly racist comment

The former NSW minister for multiculturalism has been forced to apologise for an allegedly racist comment he made towards a newly elected Labor MP in state parliament on Wednesday.

Oatley MP and opposition multiculturalism spokesperson Mark Coure apologised twice to Cabramatta MP Tri Vo after Minister for Women Jodie Harrison interrupted question time to demand he withdraw his comments.

Mark Coure in his former role as minister for multiculturalism in 2022.

Nikki Short

Harrison told this masthead she heard Coure say: “I thought that bloke [Vo] worked in catering.”

Coure withdrew the comments immediately and spoke again to apologise to Vo, saying a comment he made was “a poor attempt at humour” and was not intended to cause offence.

“As a former minister for multiculturalism, I celebrate our diversity in our society is our greatest asset,” he said. “The comment I made was not intended … to focus on an individual’s background and again, I withdraw the comment and again apologise to the member.”

In a statement, Vo said the comments were “in poor taste” but would not deter him from advocating for his community.

Vo, a lawyer of Vietnamese descent, won the electorate of Cabramatta at the March state election, succeeding long-term Labor MP Nick Lalich.

He has commerce and law degrees from the University of Sydney, and has run his own law firm with offices in Canley Heights and Marrickville since 2004.

Newtown Greens MP Jenny Leong said Coure’s comments offended many other members and demanded he extend the apology to the entire chamber.

“When racist comments are made in such disgraceful proportions … the withdrawal of the comments should be made to everybody in the chamber,” she said. “There is no place for that kind of racist comment in the chamber.”

Opposition Leader Mark Speakman said Coure had met with and personally apologised to Vo.

“Mark made an outstanding contribution to our rich multicultural community as the Member for Oatley and during his time as Minister,” he said. “I’m confident he’ll continue to do so now as shadow minister.”

NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey said Coure’s joke was offensive, but not the first time hurtful and racist comments had been made in parliament.

“I’ve had people in parliament deliberately misrepresent my name,” he said. “It’s not pleasant, it is offensive [and] as a parliament we should do better.”

Mookhey said both sides of politics were responsible for raising the tone of debate.

“We all have to live up to standards,” he said. “We’re two weeks into it, and it’s appropriate as this parliament continues for the next four years we show the people of NSW that standards are getting better.”

Daniel Mookhey being sworn in as treasurer on the Bhagavad Gita, a Hindu holy book.

Dion Georgopoulos

Strathfield MP Jason Yat-sen Li, whose parents migrated to Australia from Hong Kong in the 1960s, told the chamber he found Coure’s catering comment “deeply offensive”.

“When my family came to Australia, we were in catering,” he said.

“That [comment] was deeply personal to me because it says to me that people like me, and people that look like me, and people that work hard and do catering in this place, it says to them, ‘you don’t belong’.”

Premier Chris Minns has made a point of highlighting the diversity of the new parliament and his cabinet.

Bankstown MP Jihad Dib was the first NSW minister to be sworn in with the Koran, while Mookhey, a Hindu, was the first minister in Australia to take his oath using the Bhagavad Gita, a scripture text from that religion.

Coure was the minister for multiculturalism in the former Perrottet government from 2021 until their election defeat in March.

He is currently the opposition’s spokesperson on south-western Sydney, and holds the shadow portfolio for jobs, industry, innovation, science and technology.

He survived a 6 per cent swing against him to retain his seat of Oatley at the election, defeating Labor candidate Ash Ambihaipahar.

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