News

Australia Has A Massive Diversity Problem In Parliament – Here’s How We Can Fix It

It unfortunately doesn't stop with Kristina Keneally.

Kristina Keneally Fowler

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Kristina Keneally‘s takeover of the ethnically diverse electorate of Fowler shouldn’t come as a surprise — it sits within a wider trend of POC underrepresentation in Parliament that’s been going on for far too long.

The NSW Senator will soon jump ship for a bid at the lower house in the key Labor seat, booting out local hopeful and daughter of Vietnamese refugees, Tu Le. The backlash was understandable as Keneally, a white US-born politician from the Northern Beaches, claims she can fully represent and understand the multicultural South West Sydney division, which has done it incredibly tough during Greater Sydney’s extended lockdown.

Right now, people of colour form just 4 percent of Federal Parliament, while being more than 20 percent of Australia’s population, Victorian MP Peter Khalil told The Guardian. The mismatch is even more stark for Asian Australians.

“Encouraging people of colour to run for winnable sets has not been a priority for Australian political parties,” Osmond Chiu from inequality think tank Per Capita told Junkee. He said while Fowler was a missed opportunity to improve representation, the larger problem is systemic and goes beyond Keneally’s preselection — and it’s time to hold all parties to account.

“A Parliament that fails to reflect Australia’s growing diversity will have a lot less trust and legitimacy. It also will result in worse decision-making that disproportionately affects people of colour.”

There’s symbolic power in seeing people of colour as political representatives in Parliament…

“All parties should prioritise preselecting candidates from diverse backgrounds for winnable seats for the next election but that alone is not enough. They also must commit to ongoing public reporting on the diversity of all their candidates,” he said. “Unless there is long-term reporting to hold parties to account, there won’t be improvements.”

While the Coalition, Labor, and the Greens have worked to increase First Nations representation by preselecting candidates in safe and winnable seats, Chiu said it’s very possible there’ll be no additional POC MPs after the next election.

“There’s symbolic power in seeing people of colour as political representatives in Parliament,” said Chiu. “It encourages other people of colour to become politically active because they see it as a viable path for them.”

“There’s also a more tangible, everyday benefit when MPs know what it is like to be visibly ‘different’ and implicitly get there are cultural differences. Better decisions are made because those perspectives and experiences are not left out of the conversation.”

According to a report by Chiu, Australia’s political representation simply doesn’t stack up on the world stage. One in 10 MPs in the UK are from ethnic minority backgrounds, alongside 15 percent of Canadian MPs. New Zealand elected its most diverse Parliament ever just last year.

When political parties actively try to address underrepresentation, as has been the case overseas, the results speak for themselves. “It challenges the myth that people of colour don’t want to get involved in politics,” said Chiu.