Paul Sakkal and James Massola, Sydney Morning Herald, July 2, 2023
Labor would be forced to pick culturally diverse and Indigenous candidates under a quota plan that is expected to attract support from across the party at its national conference in August.
Victoria’s first Indigenous Labor senator, Jana Stewart, who is in the Right faction, is spearheading the push, which goes beyond Labor’s current gender rules to boost the number of MPs from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Labor’s Left faction is also mulling a range of diversity target proposals.
The affirmative action plan would be one of the biggest changes in a generation to how Labor picks its candidates and is designed to make the centre-left party reflect the increasingly non-white face of Australia, where about half the population has a parent born overseas.
It will add to the pressure Prime Minister Anthony Albanese faces at the party’s policy platform conference in August, at which party activists will probably push progressive positions on sensitive political issues such as Palestinian statehood, the AUKUS submarine deal and refugee treatment.
Stewart said multicultural Australia was a key part of Labor’s success as a party and putting people in parliament who came from communities that support Labor was a recipe for electoral success.
“In this day and age, it’s unacceptable not to reflect our community. The Australian community want to see their leaders look more like them,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for the party to be leading the way when it comes to representing the community we serve.
“While gender quotas have been successful in aspiring to and achieving gender balance, they haven’t worked for multicultural communities and First Nations communities. Women and men of colour have been left behind; it’s time to undertake the work to address the gap.
“I’m keen to add a colour lens to all that we do and doing the internal work is just as important as anything else we do.”
The details of Stewart’s push – including the quota figure and how diversity is defined – are yet to be finalised. The first-term senator also wants to measure the ethnic make-up of Labor’s rank-and-file base and hopes any new quotas would also apply to internal party positions.
A Left faction minister, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely, said there was support in the party for the concept, but warned “affirmative action for women is more straightforward, similarly for First Nations people, but there is more complexity to broader diversity targets.
“It’s not as simple as saying we have a 50 per cent target for women. Would Anthony Albanese count towards the diversity target?”
Senior figures in the Left faction want to increase the mix of cultural backgrounds in the caucus but are cautious that a too-ambitious target could result in candidates being picked before they gained relevant skills and experience for a political career.
The proposed rule changes will be debated at Labor’s national conference along with a host of other policy proposals that will help form the Albanese government’s election platform. The party’s national policy forum will finalise the draft national platform at a meeting in Sydney next week.
In 1994, Labor set a target of 35 per cent women in the federal caucus by 2002, and in 2015 it raised this to 50 per cent women within a decade. The party reached its target at the last election: 53 per cent of its federal MPs are women.
Per Capita think tank research fellow and Labor activist Osmond Chiu said the proportion of non-European-background, non-Indigenous MPs in federal Labor had risen from about 4 per cent before last year’s election to nearly 10 per cent.
This compares with an estimated 25 per cent of Australians who come from those backgrounds. The 25 per cent figure stems from a University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney analysis that integrates Australian Human Rights Commission data with the census.
Chiu pointed out that the first minister of Scotland, the mayor of London and the British prime minister were all people of colour, while in Canada four of the five largest city mayors were people of colour, as is the leader of its third-biggest party.
“People look overseas and they look at Australia and they think ‘what’s going on’, given these countries are very similar demographically and culturally,” he said. “It’s not a problem we solve overnight.”
Last month, British Labour appointed a diversity czar to advise the party on how to steer more women, ethnic minorities and working-class people into parliament.
Chiu is also involved in a cross-factional push to establish a National Multicultural Labor Network to identify talented ethnically diverse people to run for Labor.