Young CALD women are growing up thinking that politics is not for them

Young CALD women are growing up with the message that politics is not for them

Yasmin Wright

Ten years ago, when my parents asked me what I wanted to be when I was older, I answered: “a politician”.

I’ve always enjoyed leadership positions; I am pretty good at decision-making, so naturally, I thought that entering the political sphere could be a possibility for me.

But, as a young Asian-Australian woman, it was not long before I noticed the lack of diversity in the Australian political landscape. Seeing so many old, white men made my dream of becoming a politician begin to dissipate. 

My one big hope was Senator Penny Wong, but seeing her in Parliament was both a blessing and a curse. Yes, I could see someone like me in power, but the fact she was virtually the only Asian-Australian woman in the whole Parliament further underlined our lack of representation and made me question if there was a place for me in politics.

Fast-forward to May 2022 and I am set to vote for the first time in a federal election – and yet our parliamentarians right across the political spectrum still do not represent Australia’s multiculturalism. While my ideal career and life goals have changed, Australian politics and the lack of diversity in our government hasn’t. To this day, many Australians struggle to name an Australian politician who is not of European descent other than Senator Wong. Ten years later, she remains the main inspiration for aspiring Asian-Australian female politicians – that is not progress.

When Asian-Australian women do strive for representation the lack of progress can be even more striking. Think Labor’s parachuting of Kristina Keneally into the diverse seat of Fowler at the expense of local Tu Le, or the humiliating moment this week that Liberal MP Fiona Martin seemingly mistook Labor candidate for Reid Sally Sitou for Tu Le. These instances would surely discourage young Asian-Australian women from entering the political sphere. 

According to a recent report by Plan International Australia, only 4.1% of Australia’s federal parliamentarians are of a non-European background. Given that Asian, Pacific Islander, Middle-Eastern, and African Australians make up 21% of the population, this is an incredibly disappointing number.

Further to that, there are just six Indigenous parliamentarians and there are zero parliamentarians who have shared they are trans, non-binary or gender diverse. This is appalling.

We know that a federal government is supposed to be representative of its population, so why are we not properly being represented in government?

Our democracy pays the price. In a survey of 1,000 young women voting for the first time by Plan International Australia, almost three quarters said they do not believe politics is an equal space for those of diverse cultural backgrounds. One third of CALD young women said they would not ever consider politics because of their cultural or ethnic background and because our Parliament is not diverse enough.

You can’t be what you can’t see, so the result of these statistics is that an entire generation of CALD young people are growing up with the message that politics is not for them

One of the main reasons I am writing this is that we cannot simply wait and hope that the system changes, we have to make important decisions to help drive the change that we want to see. I believe that one way to do that is to set diversity targets.

Targets can ensure that Australia’s federal parliamentarians can accurately represent Australia’s population and give them a seat at the decision-making table. It means that the voices of the people and communities that they’re representing can be heard, particularly on issues that directly impact them. Diversity targets in Australian Parliament and political parties would be the first step in actively dismantling the inequality that has been rampant for too long.

While targets are not a permanent solution, they can provide the critical pathway to ensure that Australia’s population can have the opportunity to be represented in Parliament and set the standard for future generations.

Another idea was raised recently by The Greens who blasted Australia’s ban on dual citizens as “racist”. In a country as diverse as Australia stopping people from becoming a representative simply because they hold two passports does seem antiquated at best, and discriminatory at worst. Opening discussions around this issue would be a positive step. 

We need diverse voices in all levels of government. Diversity in decision-making spaces is critical, as it ensure that laws and policies best reflect the needs of people across the country. Having people with diverse backgrounds ensures that different ideas and perspectives can be heard, leading to innovative and inclusive solutions to Australia’s problems being developed.

Not only would having diversity in parliament be important for Australia and its ability to reflect the diverse population in decision-making spaces, it would also mean that young people can visualise a role for themselves in our political landscape. Diversity of representation in parliament would mean that young people of diverse background can have their leadership ambitions fostered, as they know that they are represented and that there is a place for them at Australia’s most important decision-making table.

Should Anthony Albanese win the federal election it is being said that is Italian surname is a win for diversity, but how long before we are celebrating a leader who is non-European?

If I could go back in time to around ten years ago, I would tell myself that there can be a place for people like me in politics but the reality is that I gave up on that dream because of the lack of visible representation. 

I don’t want that for future generations. Young people of diverse backgrounds shouldn’t have to go through a similar “realisation”, where they see that Australian politics has limited room for people like them. I want to see an Australia where our political landscape is truly representative of our diverse population.

Australia needs to take action immediately and ensure that our leaders and decision-makers reflect Australia’s diversity – failure to do so will mean we are losing out on an entire generation of bright, powerful and diverse voices who could transform and lead this country for the better.

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