‘Watershed moment’: Parliament makes important diversity gains

Federal election 2022

The incoming federal parliament will include double the number of Asian Australian MPs and a clear majority of female senators, making it a better reflection of modern Australian society than recent parliaments.

Diversity advocates pointed to the success of several non-white, multilingual candidates in competitive seats at Saturday’s federal election as evidence it was in political parties’ self-interest to run a more diverse slate of candidates in future elections.

Australia’s parliament will be more ethnically diverse following the election of several new MPs from non-European backgrounds. Credit:Brook Mitchell, Peter Rae, Alex Ellinghausen, Justin McManus, Supplied

Women are expected to fill approximately 57 per cent of Senate spots and around 38 per cent of House of Representatives members in the new parliament, including a wave of first-time female independents in Sydney and Melbourne.

Based on the latest results, there will be 13 members of parliament from non-Indigenous, non-European backgrounds, up from nine in the previous parliament. Ten of those 13 are women.

Three new Indigenous MPs are entering Parliament, taking to total number of Indigenous parliamentarians to an all-time high of 10.

The Labor caucus will be notably more diverse, with the addition of at least five, and probably six, MPs from non-European, non-Indigenous backgrounds.

Labor MP Anne Aly, who was born in Egypt, said she was looking forward to a “huge change” in the composition of the Labor caucus.

“This is a watershed moment for us,” Aly said. “When you look at the incoming Labor government, there’s a lot more ethnic diversity – especially women of colour.”

Incoming Higgins MP Michelle Ananda-Rajah campaigning with Anthony Albanese during the election. Credit:Alex Ellinghuasen

Osmond Chiu, a research fellow at the Per Capita think tank, said: “Labor did really well when it selected culturally diverse candidates in a range of seats.”

The number of Asian Australian parliamentarians will more than double, rising from four to nine.

Erin Wen Ai Chew, founder of the Asian Australian Alliance, said: “This is a good start, it’s progress.”

She noted the number of Asian Australians in parliament would still fall well below the national figure of 15 per cent. “There is a lot more work to be done in this area,” she said.

The Australian parliament is still significantly less representative than comparable countries thanks in part to a notable decline in racial diversity in the Liberal partyroom.

Independent Dai Le will be the first federal MP with Vietnamese heritage.Credit:Peter Rae

Parliament is on track to have 6 per cent of MPs with non-Indigenous, non-European backgrounds, according to calculations by Chiu.

That compares to figures, using an equivalent metric, of 17 per cent in New Zealand, 16 per cent in Canada and 11 per cent in Britain.

An estimated 21 per cent of Australians come from non-European backgrounds and 3 per cent are Indigenous.

In NSW, Labor candidate Sally Sitou, who has Chinese heritage, won the marginal Sydney seat of Reid, an electorate where 18 per cent of residents have Chinese ancestry.

Victorious Labor candidate for Reid Sally Sitou celebrating with son Max husband Rui on election night. Credit:Brook Mitchell

Sitou rose to national prominence during the campaign when her opponent, Fiona Martin, appeared to confuse her with Tu Le, a Vietnamese-Australian who had hoped to run for Labor in the seat of Fowler.

Speaking to supporters on election night, Sitou said diversity in parliament is important “not for diversity’s sake but for what diverse politicians bring into parliament”.

“You bring different experiences and perspectives, different ways of looking at the world, and that is what’s going to make our parliament stronger and our democracy stronger,” she said.

Independent MP Dai Le, who came to Australia as a refugee aged 11, will be the first federal MP of Vietnamese heritage after she defeated Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally in the previously safe south-west Sydney seat of Fowler.

In Victoria, Labor candidate Michelle Ananda-Rajah, who is of Sri Lankan heritage, won the former blue-ribbon Liberal seat of Higgins. Cassandra Fernando, who was born in Sri Lanka, won the safe Labor seat of Holt.

Sri Lankan born Cassandra Fernando, the new Labor member for Holt in Victoria.Credit:Facebook

In Western Australia, former engineer Zaneta Mascarenhas, who is of Indian heritage, won the seat of Swan. Former dolphin trainer and police officer Sam Lim scored one of the biggest election upsets by defeating Ben Morton in the previously safe seat of Tangney.

Lim, who was born in Malaysia and migrated to Australia in 2002, speaks 10 languages.

Sam Lim, who was born in Malaysia, is one of several new MPs from non-European backgrounds.

Labor candidate Fatima Payman, who resettled in Australia from Afghanistan in 2003, is ahead in the contest to win WA’s sixth Senate seat.

Gordon Reid, an Aboriginal man, won the marginal NSW seat of Robertson for Labor, while Marion Scrymgour, who is also Aboriginal, won the remote Northern Territory seat of Lingiari.

There are now 10 Indigenous members of parliament, including newly elected NT Liberal senator Jacinta Price. As recently as June 2021, just six MPs identified as Indigenous.

Former Liberal Indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, lost his West Australian seat of Hasluck.

WA Labor candidate Fatima Payman is ahead in the race for the state’s final Senate spot.

The Liberal Party is set to have just one federal parliamentarian from a non-Indigenous, non-European background: Singapore-born West Australian MP Ian Goodenough.

Liberal MP Dave Sharma, Australia’s first federal MP of Indian descent, lost Wentworth while Hong Kong-born Gladys Liu was defeated in the marginal Melbourne seat of Chisholm.

Former housing minister Michael Sukkar, whose father was born in Lebanon, is trailing in his battle to retain the Victorian seat of Deakin.

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