Dr. Sabrin Farooqui
The Australian Labor Party has made great inroads in promoting and embracing an egalitarian society through advocating and legislating strict anti-discrimination laws and racial abuse laws. But that success has not necessarily reached our national, state and territory parliaments, where there is a distinct lack of diversity. The omission is glaring and seriously undermines Australia’s reputation as one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world.
Democracy is enhanced through the diversity of people participating in it and political parties need to craft policies that address the perspectives and needs of all Australians, regardless of where they were born or educated. While we have much to be proud of as ALP members, it remains imperative to increase the representation of culturally diverse people in Australian politics to ensure our political institutions can be considered truly representative.
Compared to other Westminster-styled democracies, Australia’s record on diverse representation is very poor. For example, only nine of Australia’s federal MPs, just 4.0 per cent of the parliament, have non-European heritage whereas one in ten of the 650 MPs elected in the recent British election are from minority ethnic backgrounds. Even the British Conservative Party has addressed imbalance in their senior ranks with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson stating he had a “Cabinet for modern Britain”, including four British-Asians in senior positions. At the 2019 Canadian federal election, 15.1 per cent of MPs elected were visible minorities. 22 per cent of MPs in New Zealand are Māori, as well as 6 per cent Pasifika, and 5 per cent Asian.
Australia’s stark failure to address this lack of diversity is not only unreflective of our broader multicultural society, it denies us the collective wisdom of a large group of intelligent and valuable Australians. The ALP should be proud of its achievements in getting more women into our political institutions but the time in now right to extend our efforts to increase cultural diversity. Including people from diverse backgrounds in our political decision-making processes is a signal to these communities that the ALP considers them important.
There are a range of things we can do to ensure longer-term changes and improvements.
The ALP needs to formulate and implement active strategies that increase membership of culturally diverse people. As a migrant myself, who is heavily involved in community work, I have built strong connections with migrant communities and have developed an acute understanding of the issues most important to them. The things that matter to them are affordable living, affordable education, workers equal rights, penalty rate cuts, rights of refugees and the rights of asylum seekers. These concerns do not differ greatly across the various diverse communities. Unfortunately, migrant Australians appear to be unaware of the ALP’s commitment to action on these issues and to help people improve their lives, regardless of their cultural backgrounds or beliefs. We, as a party, need to change that.
We must increase our engagement with the multicultural community if we want to reflect diversity in our party. There are many ways to engage with the diverse community and, generally, the ALP does this very well. These include events, meetings with community organisations and other organised activities focussed on community engagement. These approaches can be utilised to identify, open doors to and nurture potential leaders to take our message back to their communities.
Consider more people from culturally diverse backgrounds on paid ALP staff and in campaign positions. Hiring more culturally diverse people as party staff, advisors and paid campaign workers shows migrants and others that the ALP is serious in its efforts to represent and communicate with all Australians.
Expand affirmative action measures to incorporate diverse cultures. The ALP’s affirmative action measures have been very successful in opening up winnable seats to women. There is no reason why this could not be equally successful in opening up opportunities for seats that have large culturally diverse communities. The ALP should adopt minority representation targets and implement rules to ensure diverse representation in appropriate seats.
Rather than seeing this as a new path for the ALP, we should regard these suggestions as a natural way forward for a party that is rightly known for its inclusive and progressive attitudes. The inclusion of culturally diverse people as representatives better reflects our modern communities and enhances the legitimacy of our political institutions. But it is not just the ALP. Concerted action needs to be taken by all political parties to increase the number of culturally diverse members as it is unlikely to happen organically.
The Australian Labor Party should take the opportunity to lead the way.
Dr. Sabrin Farooqui is a passionate community advocate for social justice and cultural diversity. She has worked for private and public sectors, in higher education, research and policy. She is a Member of the NSW Labor Policy Forum.