Australia is a proudly multicultural society but our political institutions, including our own party, does not reflect our nation’s cultural diversity.
In 2018, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its Leading for Change report. It found that 21% of Australians had a non-European heritage but that translated to less than 4.1% of federal MPs and not a single Minister.
Australia does far worse than comparable English-speaking Westminster democracies such as New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom when it comes to the representation of cultural diversity. Each of those countries have a different electoral and party system which suggests there is something deeper going on.
Chart: Representation of non-European heritage national MP vs diversity of national population
This is not an ideological issue. In the United Kingdom, the equivalent of the Treasurer and Home Affairs Minister are people of colour after Boris Johnson explicitly stated he wanted a Cabinet that reflected “modern Britain”. The frontbench of the British Conservative Party is more diverse than the ALP frontbench despite the United Kingdom being less culturally diverse than Australia.
As a party committed to equality, we should care about underrepresentation but there is also an electoral imperative. Our party does not reflect the communities we seek to represent. A party that does not reflect our society’s cultural diversity will not have the understanding, community links or engagement that we need to win.
The Coalition has dug into multicultural religious communities and local business networks for the last decade and we see its electoral impact. We see multicultural seats that were once safe Labor seats in the middle-ring of Sydney like Banks and Reid that the Liberals now. Others further west are becoming more marginal.
We cannot just send a Young Labor flying squad to doorknock when an election is called, we need genuine local engagement and involvement, rooted in our diverse communities, not a transactional approach.
For Labor to win the next state election and win more federal seats in New South Wales and Victoria, Labor needs to change. Labor needs to prioritise building a party that reflects our nation’s cultural diversity, recognising it is an electoral imperative.
To put it on the agenda and kickstart an overdue conversation, branches in New South Wales are being urged to support platform changes that prioritise a diverse party at the upcoming 2021 NSW State Conference.
Conference delegates from electorate councils, affiliated unions and party units are being urged to support the following platform change for Chapter 2 - Social Justice and Legal Affairs:
Amending the NSW Labor Platform by inserting the following clause after 2.39:
2.40 NSW Labor recognises the ongoing underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse people in senior leadership positions across business, politics, government and higher education. NSW Labor is committed to improving the representation of culturally and linguistically diverse people across all organisations and institutions, including within the party.
If you would like to show your support for the platform amendment and be involved in this ongoing campaign for greater cultural diversity within the Australian Labor Party, please sign this petition.
Change is not easy and will not come overnight but it is necessary if we want a modern, successful party that will win power.
Osmond Chiu is the editor of Challenge. He is Senior Policy and Research Officer at the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) and a Research Fellow at Per Capita. He is also a rank and file member of the NSW Labor Policy Forum. Twitter Facebook