NEWS ANALYSIS: Diversity in political representation in Australia a far cry

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By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, 18 September: Labor’s Kristina Keneally moving to the safe Labor seat of Fowler, at the cost of Vietnamese origin lawyer Tu Le, in Australia’s most multicultural Federal seat, has opened a can of worms, that’s too revealing.

Victoria has only one Indian-origin MP, Labor’s Kaushaliya Vaghela, from the Western Metropolitan Region. She was born in India. There is another MP who is of South Asian origin. In fact, people keep trying and years are lost. There could be many reasons, but the central message being that political representation in Australia is not diverse despite few exceptions.

Mr. Vasan Srinivasan, the former Liberal candidate from Forest Hill and the current Chairperson of the Mental Health Foundation of Australia (MHFA) talking to SAT said, ” We are the most successful multicultural nation, we have 200 plus nationalities and 200 plus languages spoken, and over 100 faiths practiced, living peacefully and in harmony, but are still lacking in political diversity.”

Mr. Manoj Kumar, former Labor candidate in Menzies (Federal), and Forest Hill (Victoria where he lost by a small margin) and from the Subcontinent Friend’s of Labor (SCFOL) has demanded a 20% quota at all levels of representation for people of color (non-Europeans) to ensure true inclusion and diversity in Australia. The demand might be a shocker for Australian politicians, but portrays a popular community narrative that non-Europeans normally are pre-selected in seats where getting elected is as difficult as reaching Mars.

Surjeet Dhanji from the Melbourne University’s School of Social Sciences and Post-doctoral Fellow Australia India Institute in an article in the Melbourne Asia Review (The ‘missing’ Indian-Australians in politics) says: “A major finding of my research is that the complex process of preselection by political parties is a significant hurdle.

There is a prevailing perception among respondents that regardless of the contribution of these candidates to the community, first preference in winnable seats is given to candidates with Anglo-Celtic backgrounds.”

Today’s Guardian Australia tells the tale. According to the 2016 census, in Australia, 58% of the people are of Anglo-Celtic ancestry and 18 % European. Non-Europeans are 21 % and the owners of our country, the Aboriginal and Torris State Islands people are 3 %. Whitlam ended the White Australia policy in the 1970s and we now have a diverse multicultural population that has given great respect to Australia as the most diverse nation in the world. But this is not reflected politically. Diversity in political representation is a far cry.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) in 2018 discloses (quoted in Guardian Australia) in Australia’s 45th Parliament there were only 4.1 % non-Europeans and 1.5 % indigenous people. It speaks for itself. One wonders if having a few names in the Senate and states is multiculturalism or a reflection of diversity.

The issue is well nailed by Osmond Chiu in Lowy Institute’s – The Interpreter (Australian Politics Should Be As Diverse As Its People – 23 March 2021 – lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/australian-politics-should-be-diverse-its-people?fbclid=IwAR3dK4BbT_GwxRSYdHmJdhpYfHq6WYE-oNHcQ4hJHfT-hSyw89MWLOO52y0):

“There is a powerful symbolism in improved political representation. It may sound trite, but you can’t be what you cannot see. Role models create a sense of viability – which matters because it encourages others to aim higher, and it elevates voices that will enable Australia as a country to move beyond the simplistic and one-dimensional conversations about race. It also shows that the claims that cohesive liberal democracies require homogeneity are false. Equality and freedom are not culturally specific – they are universal values.

Unless action is taken now, Australia’s democratic institutions will become even less representative as the country becomes more diverse. It is essential to push back against illiberal nationalism by demonstrating Australia’s multicultural liberal democracy delivers freedom and equality for all, regardless of citizens’ cultural background. The status quo reinforces a historical perception that Australia is a white settler colonial outpost, and it makes it harder to navigate an increasingly fraught regional geopolitical environment.”

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