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Opinion: Women of Colour in politics must be backed!

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While 71% of Australians said they want a more diverse parliament, the stark reality is that all Australian governments continue to be over-represented by Anglo-Celtic/White European politicians.

Cultural diversity as a key component of “Diversity and Inclusion” is often lost on the dominant culture, yet, in order to reduce homogeneity of thought, policy and law-making, diversity and inclusion must, without question, include the voices and lived experiences of cultural and ethnic leaders in at all levels of government.

The White Australia Policy (1901-1975) mandated that all Australian governments and institutions racially exclude and wholly disadvantage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as migrants and refugees – broadly speaking ‘people of colour’.   To counter the damage of the country’s 70-year eugenics agenda, one might assume that our governments and institutions today would behave in a more overtly inclusive manner.  Sadly, not so in 2021.

Labor’s recent ill-fated decision to helicopter Senator Kristina Keneally, from Sydney’s North Shore into an ethnically diverse electorate in Western Sydney, is surely counter-intuitive and counter-productive to diversity and inclusion.  Sure, Keneally is an experienced politician, but as pointed out by Tu Le, the preferred candidate for Fowler, “she has no connection to the community”.

Given that Labor has had a long history of enabling cultural diversity in political leadership, this latest factional move is disappointing for many in Western Sydney, New South Wales’ most culturally diverse region.

Associate Professor Tanya Jakimow of the Australian National University says “Osmund Chiu at PerCapita thinktank shows the percentage of Australian adults with Asian heritage is similar to that of African Americans in the USA—14.7%, yet only 4% of Federal MPs have non-European heritage. The research is clear: pre-selection in winnable seats for Asian-Australians and other ‘people of colour’ is crucial to address ‘white’ overrepresentation. The parachuting of Kristina Kenneally to stand for Labor in Fowler is a missed opportunity with long-term consequences; safe seats do not come up often and a logjam of incumbents is already delaying the diversification of our Parliaments”.

Mariam Mourad, President of Bankstown Labor Branch, CEO of Bankstown Women’s Health Centre and Fairfield Women’s Health Service concurs with Prof Jakimow and says “The role of women of colour within the Australian community is undeniably one of the most important and vital collaborative experiences.  It ensures that no one is left behind.  However, when it comes to leadership in the political space, women of colour are not considered as competent as their fellow white sisters.  We are often muted in order to ensure our privileged white sisters are heard.  I am utterly disappointment at the Labor Party’s decision to sideline Tu Le as preferred candidate for Fowler.“

Tharini Apolline Rouwette, CEO of Allies in Colour, runs Australia’s first progressive platform to advance people of colour in jobs, business, and politics. She says “Labor’s decision to back Kristina Keneally to stand in Fowler, against the backdrop of overwhelming support for Tu Le, an Australian-born, daughter of Vietnamese refugees, is a mistake that the diverse community in Fowler will remember when casting their votes. This also serves as a warning to any organisation that presents themselves to be progressive, or community-minded, and yet are complicit in perpetuating structural inequality and racism of marginalised communities “.

The knowledge, expertise and lived experience of our First Nations people, Migrants, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, LGBTQI+ and people living with Disabilities is vital in developing anti-racist, anti-discriminatory policies and laws. It is vital in developing an anti-racist Australia.

Related: Report: Working women of colour experience discrimination despite D&I policies.

NSW Parliament lags all other states and territories in their representation of women of colour with Greens MP Jenny Leong being the only elected woman of colour. Zero Aboriginal people of lived experience are represented in our state parliament.

NSW Labor, Liberals, Greens and all political parties must commit to authentically representing Australian communities in politics by including people of colour at all levels of leadership.

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