Increasing diversity reflected in politics

With nearly half of Australia’s population either first or second-generation migrants, our government is increasingly representing and governing people of diverse cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs.

But are the politicians themselves representing the diversity in Australia?

The proportion of politician to population may be lagging, but never have so many migrants or children of migrants held seats in our federal and state parliaments.

You’ve most likely heard Mathias Cormann’s voice over the radio as he discusses federal economic issues from taxes to annual budgets, and probably tilted your head as you hear a strong accent.

Cormann is an Australian politician who has served as a Liberal senator for Western Australia since 2007. He has been the Minister for Finance since late 2013 plus Leader of the Government in the Senate, Vice President of the Executive Council and Special Minister of State since late 2017.

That accent you hear comes down to Cormann’s immigrant background.

Born in the German-speaking town of Eupen in eastern Belgium, Cormann graduated with a Bachelor of Law degree from the Catholic University of Leuven.

At the young age of 21, Cormann became a councillor in his local area with the Christian Social Party, then after a visit to Perth in 1994, he decided to migrate to Australia permanently.

After joining the Liberal Party in Western Australia and taking a job as ministerial chief-of-staff, he then moved up the ranks to senior adviser to then-Premier, Richard Court.

With an evidently keen eye for politics, he moved into federal politics by working for two years as a senior adviser to then Minister for Justice and Customs Chris Ellison.

From 2003 to 2008, Cormann was the state senior vice-president of the Liberal Party in Western Australia, and ran for a Senate seat in 2007.

Cormann has been re-elected as Senator for Western Australia since.

On the opposing spectrum of Australian politics is the Labor Party, for which Senator Penny Wong has sat as Senator for South Australia since 2002.

Born in Malaysia to an Australian mother and Malaysian father, she then moved to Adelaide at the age of eight where she would later graduate with a Bachelor of Arts and Law degrees.

After working as a lawyer and political advisor, Wong entered federal parliament in 2002 where she became the first Asian-born member of an Australian cabinet and first female openly-LGBTI Australian federal parliamentarian and cabinet minister.

She has had numerous roles as a member for the Australian Labor Party over the years, with Gillard, Rudd and now Shorten. Wong is the current leader of the Opposition in the Senate, plus Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Not an immigrant per-se, but definitely a politician whose heritage and family history plays a part in who she is personally and politically is Gladys Berejiklian — the current Premier for New South Wales.

Born in Sydney to Armenian immigrant parents, her family’s story was one of torment.

Her grandparents were orphaned in the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and more than 40 of her relatives were killed among the other 1.5 million Armenians.

Her grandparents were forced to leave their homeland, eventually settling in the Middle East and started a family in Aleppo, Syria.

However, The Middle East could only provide a safe haven for the Armenian refugees for a short while as the region battled its own conflicts.

Growing up in Sydney, Berejiklian’s family only spoke Armenian at home and it was not until she started school at the age of five that she learnt English.

Her family’s history and struggle is something she wishes to preserve; she has remained on the Armenian National Committee of Australia and in 2015 she attended a commemoration ceremony in Yerevan for the 100th anniversary of the Genocide.

She has a Bachelor of Arts and a graduate diploma in international studies, as well as a Masters in commerce.

She joined the Liberal Party in 1993, and was president of the New South Wales Young Liberals from 1997 to 1998.

Since then, she has accumulated a variety of roles from Delegate to State Council and Campaign Director for State seat of Willougby.

Her more senior roles have involved leader of the New South Wales Liberal Party since January 2017, and has been a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly since 2003, representing the seat of Willoughby.

Cormann, Wong and Berejiklian come from diverse parts of the globe, and have entered politics from different states of Australia.

Yet they have a common link — they are not ‘pure-bred’ Australians.

But the Australia we know today was born from imported ideas and people.

With nearly half the population born overseas or with at least one parent born overseas it is no surprise that these politicians are governing Australia.

But in late 2017 a number of federal politicians resigned as a result of the ‘dual-citizenship’ scandal, where it was declared they were ineligible for office because of they held foreign citizenship.

Under Section 44 of the Australian Constitution, anyone deemed to have allegiance to a ‘foreign power’ is disqualified from holding office in federal parliament.

The saga struck a bizarre chord, especially in a country known for its Multiculturalism and has become a matter of academic and social scrutiny.

Through these politicians and many more, we can see the positive impact migrants have had upon the governance of their adopted nation.

As our nation continues to diversify culturally, surely democracy requires that the make-up of our parliament follows suit.

By Portia Conyers-East