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Labor Considers Quota Plan to Boost Cultural Diversity and Indigenous Representation

Labor is expected to adopt a quota plan at its national conference in August that would require the party to select culturally diverse and Indigenous candidates. The proposal, spearheaded by Jana Stewart, Victoria’s first Indigenous Labor senator, aims to go beyond the party’s existing gender rules and increase the number of MPs from non-English-speaking backgrounds. The Left faction of Labor is also considering various diversity target proposals.

The affirmative action plan, The Age reports, represents one of the most significant changes in candidate selection for Labor in a generation and seeks to make the party more representative of Australia’s increasingly diverse population, where approximately half of the residents have at least one parent born overseas. This move adds to the pressure faced by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who will contend with progressive positions on sensitive political issues such as Palestinian statehood, the AUKUS submarine deal, and refugee treatment during the party’s policy platform conference in August.

Stewart highlighted the importance of multiculturalism in Labor’s success as a party, stating that having representatives in parliament from communities that support Labor is crucial for electoral success. She expressed the need for the party to lead the way in reflecting the community it serves. While gender quotas have achieved gender balance, Stewart argued that they have not effectively addressed the underrepresentation of multicultural and Indigenous communities. She urged the party to undertake the necessary work to bridge this gap.

The specific details of Stewart’s proposal, including the quota figure and the definition of diversity, are yet to be finalised. The first-term senator also aims to assess the ethnic makeup of Labor’s rank-and-file base and hopes that any new quotas would extend to internal party positions as well.

While there is support within the party for the concept, some caution that diversity targets beyond gender present more complexity. A Left faction minister, speaking anonymously, acknowledged that affirmative action for women and First Nations people is relatively straightforward, but broader diversity targets require careful consideration. They raised the question of whether party leader Anthony Albanese would count towards the diversity target.

Senior figures in the Left faction are keen to increase the representation of diverse cultural backgrounds in the party’s caucus. However, they are cautious about setting overly ambitious targets that may result in candidates being selected before they have gained the necessary skills and experience for a political career.

The proposed rule changes, along with other policy proposals, will be debated at Labor’s national conference, which will contribute to shaping the election platform of an Albanese government. The draft national platform will be finalised at a meeting of the party’s national policy forum in Sydney next week.

Labor previously set targets for gender representation in the federal caucus, aiming for 35 percent women by 2002 and subsequently increasing the target to 50 per cent within a decade. The party successfully reached this target in the last election, with 53 per cent of its federal MPs being women.

Research conducted by the Per Capita think tank and Labor activist Osmond Chiu indicates that the proportion of non-European-background, non-Indigenous MPs in federal Labor has increased from around 4 per cent before the last election to nearly 10 per cent. However, this figure still falls short of the estimated 25 per cent of Australians who come from these backgrounds, as indicated by a study combining data from the Australian Human Rights Commission and the census.

Chiu highlighted the diversity seen in leadership positions in other countries such as Scotland and Canada and urged Australia to address the disparity. He emphasised that solving this issue will require long-term efforts rather than overnight solutions.

In a similar move, the British Labour Party recently appointed a diversity czar to advise on increasing the representation of women, ethnic minorities, and working-class individuals in parliament. Chiu is also involved in a cross-factional initiative to establish a National Multicultural Labor Network, which aims to identify talented individuals from diverse backgrounds to run for Labor.

Source : Neos Kosmos