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Australia New Zealand has elected its most diverse Parliament ever. How does Australia compare?

23:50  20 october  2020
23:50  20 october  2020 Source:   abc.net.au

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Elizabeth Kerekere is a one of New Zealand's newest MPs — but she's also one of the country's most diverse.

She is of Māori descent and is also a takatāpui, a Māori term for those who identify with diverse sexes, genders and sexualities.

"It didn't feel real," she said of her recent election success.

New Zealand has just elected its most diverse Parliament ever — almost half their MPs will be women, and around 10 per cent are from the LGBTQ+ community.

Ms Kerekere said it was vital that "people have the opportunity to take part in the decisions that affect their lives", and she wanted to make sure decisions are viewed through a Māori and rainbow lens.

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"In Parliament, that is the highest level, and everybody must be at the table to have those conversations," she said.

"I'm really proud that I can be here to represent."

Just how diverse is New Zealand's Parliament?

As votes are still being counted, some seats have not yet been finalised.

But it looks like New Zealand's Parliament will have 48 per cent women.

There are also 16 Māori MPs, and the country is also celebrating the election of the country's first MP of African origin, Ibrahim Omer, its first Latin American MP, Ricardo Menéndez March, and its first MP of Sri Lankan heritage, Vanushi Walters.

It also appears as though 12 of the 120 seats have been won by people from the LGBTQ+ community.

In terms of Pasifika candidates, eight won their seats and four more are likely to make it into Parliament.

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Political scientist Christina Laalaai-Tausa from Massey University in New Zealand told the ABC's Pacific Beat that the new Pasifika MPs reflected the diversity within the population.

"I think it's now up to them to get their heads together and have a strong, strategic think about what would work for Pasifika people not only in New Zealand but, also in the Pacific," she said.

"They should be able to provide a strong Pasifika voice for the New Zealand Government and actually start to think about some policies and legislation to help bring up the Pasifika communities in terms of economic stability and things like that

They've been hit hard through crisis after crisis, as we've seen through COVID."

How does it compare to Australia?

In Australia, there are 86 women elected at the federal level across the 227 seats in the upper and lower houses, or just under 38 per cent.

In the House of Representatives, there are 47 women MPs, making up just under a third, at 31 per cent.

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As of last month, Australia has — for the first time — a majority of women in its Senate, with 39 women and 37 men.

There are six Indigenous people elected at the federal level, with a seventh incoming, and nine people who identify as LGBTQ+.

After the 2019 election, about 4 per cent of Federal MPs had non-European heritage — far below Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

How does New Zealand's system work?

Unlike Australia, in New Zealand, there are seven seats reserved for Maori candidates.

But as Ms Kerekere points out, "it doesn't always translate to power and influence inside the Parliament".

Another key difference is that New Zealand has one chamber of government — no Senate — and has a mixed-member proportional system, or MMP.

Each person gets two votes — one for an electorate MP, like Australia's House of Representatives vote, and one for their preferred party.

That party vote is a bit like voting above the line for the Senate in Australia, where the party decides the order of their candidates.

If the party gets more than 5 per cent, it will get a number of seats in Parliament roughly proportional to their vote share, filled by candidates on the party's list.

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This system was brought in in 1996 following a Royal Commission on the electoral system.

Does it foster diversity?

Part of the reason for reform was to improve diversity, according to Professor Jennifer Curtin, director of the Public Policy Institute at the University of Auckland.

"One of the arguments was we need a more diverse Parliament — we need it to be not only proportional in terms of the vote share, but it also needs to better reflect New Zealand society," she said.

The MMR system was an incentive for parties to show they were reflective of a multi-ethnic society, she said, because there are more candidates who can win seats.

"So over time, we've seen an increasing degree of diverse candidates put on the party list," she said.

She said under New Zealand's former "first past the post" system, when there was only one winner for an electorate seat, it was highly competitive.

That meant parties tended "to select what they see as the most traditionally palatable candidate — and historically, that has been white men," Professor Curtin said.

"That was partly also fuelled by the misbelief or the wrong belief that women were vote losers, and only men could be by winners."

While New Zealand's Labour Party has gender targets, they are not as strict as the Australian Labor Party's quotas, Professor Curtin said, and while the more diverse Parliament was promising, there were still challenges remaining.

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"There are sexist practices and thinking that still need to be addressed — I wouldn't say that it's any kind of nirvana here, just because we've gotten to 48 per cent," she said.

'Toxic' press and failed multicultural narrative in Australia

Dr Blair Williams, a lecturer at the School of Politics and International Relations at the Australian National University, said the media played a key role.

"I think the Australian press is more toxic, it's more negative, it's more sexist than the New Zealand papers," Dr Williams said.

"And I think that would have a massive impact on not only politicians ... but also affecting whether people even want to enter politics," she said.

Dr Williams added that until Jacinda Ardern's win on the weekend, parties had to form coalitions to govern since the 1996 reforms.

She said it was important to think of ways to improve diversity in Australia, where the Parliament is predominantly white.

"It is not diverse at all, it doesn't really represent what Australia looks like. So we need to open up these conversations around how do we get our Parliament to be more inclusive?"

Dr Clayton Chin, senior lecturer in political theory at the University of Melbourne, said New Zealand's diverse parliament was "the result of a strong and consistent commitment to valuing diversity and including citizens of diverse backgrounds in all elements of social and political life".

"Along with other multicultural success stories, like Canada's current Parliament and cabinet, it throws into stark relief the failures of the multicultural narrative in Australia," he said.

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"While it often trumpets itself as a multicultural success, Australia's political culture does not tell the same story on diversity and its Parliament reflects that.

Speaking the same language

Indigenous Labor MP Linda Burney said she didn't think reserved Indigenous seats were the way to go in Australia, however Indigenous representation at all levels of Government was important.

She said having a treaty, like New Zealand does with its Māori people, was essential.

"I think that treaties are incredibly important, and it will happen in Australia," she said.

Another key lesson for Australia was not about its upper echelons of government, but how the Māori culture and language is embedded in the identity of New Zealand.

Part of this was that Māori people make up a higher proportion of New Zealand's population (about 16 per cent) than Indigenous people in Australia (about 3 per cent), and have a single language compared to the 250 once in Australia.

"The area I'm very envious of in New Zealand is the way in which language has been preserved and is celebrated and used in everyday life," she said.

"Language is such an important window to culture and understanding, and so much has been lost and destroyed in Australia.

"And there's very little done, in my view, to hold on to what we've got left."

For Ms Kerekere, in her first few days on the job, "representation of the Indigenous people of any colonised country is essential".

And she said there's more work to be done. New Zealand may have taken strides in LGBTQ+ representation, but she'd like to see trans, intersex and non-binary people in Government, and she wants to help improve the wellbeing of the country's takatāpui people.

"It is so important that we use this platform to open up and give space, so that those people can bring their voices into the space where decisions are made," she said.

Additional reporting by Tahlea Aualiitia


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