Australia’s next parliament has been declared. There’s only one politician with a visible disability

June 23, 2022

Australia’s 47th parliament has been officially declared by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), and it’s been hailed as one of the most diverse in the country’s history.

With the 151 members in the House of Representatives and the 40 positions that were up for election in the Senate now confirmed, there has been an uptick of women in the House of Representatives, the number of Asian-Australian politicians has doubled and Indigenous representation is now reflective of the national population.

But of all of the 227 parliamentarians, there is only one person who presents a visible disability: WA Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John.

People With Disability Australia President Samantha Connor said levels of disabled representation were “astounding”.

She added: “Our parliament should be a true ‘parliament of the people’ and reflect the community – there should be Aboriginal people, people of colour, disabled people, older Australians and younger people, as well as people from low socioeconomic backgrounds.”

Executive director of think tank Per Capita Emma Dawson agreed that while the outcome of the 47th parliament was “much improved”, there was “still work to do”.

Women’s ranks rise

The new parliament also now has 43 women in the Senate, making up 56.5 per cent of the upper house. That’s up from 52.5 per cent in the previous parliament.

“Women aren’t the minority. We’re half the population — slightly more than half the population — and having equal representation there is absolutely fundamental,” Ms Dawson said.

Asian-Australian representation more than doubles

Only three Australians from Asian backgrounds were in the House of Representatives prior to the 2022 federal election. Those figures have has since more than doubled in what has been described as a “huge improvement” by Ms Dawson.

Among the newest faces is Labor’s Sam Lim, a former police officer and dolphin trainer who speaks nine languages other than English. His surprise victory came in what was once a Liberal safe seat in the WA electorate of Tangney.

Others include Dai Le in Sydney’s Fowler, Michelle Ananda-Rajah in Melbourne’s Higgins, Zaneta Mascarenhas in Perth’s Swan, Sally Sitou in Sydney’s Reid and Cassandra Fernando in Melbourne’s Holt.

But advocates remain dissatisfied with the 4 per cent of Asian-Australian representation in parliament. This is compared to 16 per cent of Australia’s population being born in Asian countries, according to the 2016 Census.

Despite this, Ms Dawson says she is confident Australians will see — and vote for — more politicians with Asian backgrounds with time.

“Australia’s history of multiculturalism and immigration moves very slowly,” Ms Dawson said.

“It takes time when those communities are established for them to infiltrate, if you like, to break down those barriers.”

And with Labor’s Sally Sitou taking the reins in the multicultural seat of Reid, and independent MP Dai Le taking the safe seat of Fowler from Kristina Keneally, Ms Dawson says one message is clear.

“It’s really important … that those communities are represented by people that reflect the reality of that community,” Ms Dawson said.

“I think the challenge now is to ensure that they hold on to those seats next time around.”

First Muslims make it into federal parliament

It was a moment of firsts for Muslim representation in the 47th parliament, with the first hijab-wearing politician entering the Senate, Fatima Payman

Senator Payman is also the first Afghan refugee who has been voted into parliament, a background that Ms Dawson believes is critical to being represented in Australian politics.

“Having parliamentarians with refugee backgrounds I think is really important to understanding our nation,” Ms Dawson said.

“Other than the First Nations people, we all come from some form of immigrant background.

“It’s really important that the people that represent us in our parliament actually reflect the ethnic and cultural make-up of the country.”

23 June 2022
By Rayane Tamer