Representative Government: Why Political Diversity Matters

Senators Mehreen Faruqi and Janet Rice. Photo sources: The Greens.

Australia needs more women in leadership, but we also need cultural diversity.

On the 22nd of September, Dr Amanda Cohn hosted a panel discussion about diversity in politics featuring Senators Mehreen Faruqi, Janet Rice and Wodonga Council candidate Rupinder Kaur. The barrier-breaking women discussed what obstacles people with diverse backgrounds face, the societal and economic implications, and what Australia can do to encourage more diversity in Parliament.

The former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull referred to Australia as the most successful multicultural society in the world, even though diversity is invisible in its public discourse. The Australian Human Rights Commission reviewed this matter in their report Leading for Change and discovered significant under-representation of people of culturally diverse backgrounds in senior leadership positions.

The 2016 census revealed a fast-changing, culturally diverse nation showing with 67% of the Australian population born in Australia. However, nearly half (49%) were first or second-generation Australian. And of the 6,163,667 people born overseas, almost one in five (18%) had arrived in Australia since the start of 2012.

Senator Janet Rice has been an activist for more than thirty years – enthusiastic about more women getting involved in politics. Her discussion covered how women are more likely to get elected into local government than the senate and that for Wodonga Council candidate Rupinder Kaur – women of colour belong in politics. 

Janet believes the local government is where you can make a difference and feel that sense of agency and “by working together we can achieve change, diversity, and everyone being represented more in their council than Parliament.”

Panel discussion off to a great start with barrier-breaking female leaders. Source: Sarah Cupitt.

In her six years of the senate, under the Turnbull Government, Janet described it as “a Government filled with people who are misogynists, with people who are transphobic, racists – and it can feel difficult to feel that you’re making a change.”

Rupinder Kaur raised in India, moved to Wodonga via the UK in 2007 is the current chair of the Albury-Wodonga Ethnic Communities Council and is also the Member of the Rural advisory commission run by the Victorian Multicultural Commission. In the panel, she explained the full extent of cultures, festivities, communities of specific needs, values from diverse backgrounds – clearly outlining the lack of diversity in politics.

“Most importantly, lack of diversity in politics creates a sense of unheard and people from minority groups feeling like they’re less important; this can be a lack of community stimulation.” Said Rupinder.

She argues that more diversity in politics will enable use for community consultation, building confidence and aid future community projects.

“I think we need to take every essential step and explore the ideas of how we can welcome diversity into politics at all levels. Inclusion from diversity will help us to grow as one community,” Rupinder said.

Senator and Dr Mehreen Faruqi joined NSW State Parliament, becoming the first Muslim woman to sit in an Australian parliament and in 2018, Australia’s first Muslim senator, a passionate advocate against racism and misogyny. Mehreen ticks a lot of minority boxes in Parliament; migrant, Muslim, a woman of colour and an engineer.

“When I started in the upper house of the NSW Parliament, there were only ten women out of forty-two members; this wasn’t a long time ago; this was two years ago. Last year was the first year in history that our senate had reached equal representation in terms of gender. But the story is still very different in House of Reps,” she said.

And she’s right, A Sydney Morning Herald article stated, “Parliament is no more diverse than it was in 1988, as the government and opposition benches swell with white men, political staffers, unionists, lawyers and bankers,” (Bagshaw, 2019)

Pointing out the lack of diversity in contemporary society points to the inequality that exists. Still, it also means that “decision making is often shackled by this sameness and conformity of opinions, creativity and innovation come when different points of view come together, in a variety of lived experiences,” Mehreen said.

People in all communities should be involved in the decision-making process, and it’s up to us to change it. A Government that is not representative of a nation cannot deliver a legislative agenda that provides for the needs of everyday Australians.

Published: Medium & Modern Ink

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