For decades, there has been criticism that Australia’s parliaments have failed to reflect the nation’s multiculturalism.
“Too white” or “out of touch” has been a critique leveled at both sides of the political aisle.
At this election, both major parties made attempts to broaden their memberships to improve diversity.
As the voting counts are finalized, the new 47th Parliament of Australia appears likely to bring a new set of culturally and linguistically diverse politicians into the fold, perhaps an indication that times are changing – though it has lost some prominent representatives too.
Record number of newly elected Asian and South Asian Australian politicians
According to the 2016 census, more than 10 per cent of Australia’s population identified as Asian Australian and a further 2.8 per cent described themselves as Indian Australian. yet at the 2019 election, only three candidates of Asian ancestry were elected into parliament.
Saturday’s vote sees Dai Le (Fowler), Michelle Ananda-Raja (Higgins), Sally Sitou (Reid), Sam Lim (Tagney), Cassandra Fernando (Holt) and Zaneta Mascheranus (Swan) newly entering the lower house, although Gladys Liu ( Chisolm) has lost her seat.
Ms Fernando was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Melbourne when she was 11.
Ms Mascheranus, a former fly-in fly-out worker, was born in Kalgoorlie to parents from Goa in India.
On Monday, Ms Le reflected on her journey from fleeing war-torn Vietnam to contesting one of Labor’s safest seats and dislodging one of its most recognizable members.
“I still can not believe it,” Ms Le wrote on Twitter.
New First Nations faces joining parliament
The new Labor government has pledged to support the Uluru Statement and an Indigenous voice to parliament.
But within the parliament itself, Indigenous Australians have historically been rarely represented.
In the last parliament, there were just six Indigenous members in the entire parliament.
Although Ken Wyatt will lose his seat, Aboriginal Australians Jana Stewart (Victoria Senate), Jacinta Price (NT Senate) and Marion Scrymgour (Lingiari), who have cultural ties with the Tiwi Islands and Central Australia, were all successful in their respective races.
Ms Scrymgour was the first Indigenous woman elected into the Northern Territory Parliament.
More than a dozen women entering parliament for first time
The ascent of the Climate 200-backed “teal” independents has placed the issue of gender equality firmly on the political agenda.
Fourteen new women will join parliament and seven seats contested by women remain too close to call.
In the previous parliament, 32 women populated the senate and just 40 made up the house of representatives (less than a third).
Projected Kooyong victor Monique Ryan told the ABC on Monday that the rise of women in this election cycle was a result of the government dropping the ball on women’s issues.
“The population of Australia expects better,” Dr Ryan said.
“This is a government that has not even kept women in its own workplace, it’s a government which has seen an increase in homelessness in women over 50, it’s a government that in nine years has failed to take action on the gender pay gap… this is what the people are dissatisfied with. “
Outside chance waits to know if she will join parliament’s ranks
A final Senate hopeful to watch is Labor candidate Fatima Payman, an Australian Muslim with cultural roots from Afghanistan.
Ms Payman is 27 and on her candidate page says only a few years ago, she and her three siblings were being provided for by her dad, an Afghan refugee who was “working around the clock” as a security guard, taxi driver and kitchen hand to ensure his children had a better life.
Ms Payman makes a point of being proud of her identity and has embraced her story as a reflection of a new, more diverse, Australia.
“While he worked around the clock as a kitchen hand, a security guard and a taxi driver, Mum looked after us before starting her own small business of providing driving lessons,” Ms Payman wrote.
“Dad instilled in me the values of hard work and perseverance.”
In 2018, Ms Payman’s father died from leukemia.
She describes it as a turning point in her life and after her father’s death, she became active in WA as a community organizer and union representative so she could, in her words, help people like her dad.
Ms Payman sits in the third position on the WA Senate ticket, which means she is a chance to accompany the swathe of diverse Australians joining the parliament.
The incoming government has pledged to make Australia fairer and more equal.
A more diverse parliament could be a good catalyst.
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