• External Contributor

White people, pass the mic: Fowler is not Keneally's seat

When looking into media coverage of the announcement that Kristina Keneally would likely be 'parachuted' into the seat of Fowler, I came across a live cross on Sky News - it's always a dark day when you agree with something they broadcast. But the most interesting thing about the clip was the full cast of white people they had on the segment to discuss the issue of diversity in government. To quote a 90s classic, isn't it ironic? Isn't it also ironic that I just quoted a white singer's song for that moment.


Screenshot from Sky News, but please don't go there and give them your clicks

In case you missed it, former NSW Premier and current Labor Senator Kristina Keneally has nominated for preselection for the lower house seat of Fowler. In the lead up to an election, the major parties will hold a preselection 'election' to pick who will run. A number of potentials from the party will put their hands up, then a vote among Labor members will be held. While the incumbent MP, Chris Hayes, has put his support behind Tu Le, a lawyer from the local community whose parents came to Australia from Vietnam as refugees, it's likely Keneally has a larger support base, having been in the party and in politics for some time. The move is politically motivated, to state the obvious, and is said to be leading up to Keneally potentially moving into an ALP leadership position in the future - likely after the next federal election.


Critiques have rightfully been made about how this bodes for a future of diversity and legitimate representation in government. Victorian MP Peter Khalil, who comes from an Egyptian background, said non-Indigenous people of colour made up only 4.1% of the federal parliament “compared to us being 21% of the Australian population”, and the party needed to do better. Further to that, only 6 federal parliamentarians identify as Indigenous. Our government is very very white.


Critics will often retort that there are simply no diverse candidates 'available' nor 'willing' to put their hands up for elected roles, which is honestly total bs, but this specific scenario can't even be explained away by political spin. It's so painfully obvious. Keneally already holds a spot, a safe Labor seat in the Senate. She's moved up the ranks of Labor over the past almost-two decades since she was elected. She is already a senator. Tu Le is a newcomer to politics who lives in the community of Fowler, has been backed by the incumbent, and brings much-needed diversity to not only the Labor party but to Australian politics.


White Labor ministers have come in droves to back the decision of the party to place Keneally in the seat, with ALP leader Anthony Albanese defending the party's diversity, pointing to Penny Wong, Ed Husic, Anne Aly, and even saying "And guess what? At the next election there's someone called 'Albanese' running for prime minister. And in terms of diversity, that's a first too." You can always count on a white man to say something that fucking ridiculous. He also claims that Keneally’s is a “great migrant story,” as she was born in the US. Not quite the same experience as fleeing from persecution, Anthony.


When we turn our gaze to elected officials of colour and diverse backgrounds, which we fucking SHOULD BE DOING, a different story is told. MP Peter Khalil said “all political parties need to do better so that our parliament better reflects the diversity of Australia because that diversity both in gender and ethnicity brings broader perspectives, better decision making, public policy and outcomes.” Western Australian MP Anne Aly said the choice was a “huge failure for Labor on diversity.” She said “diversity, equality and multiculturalism can’t just be a trope that Labor pulls out and parades while wearing a sari and eating some Kung Pao chicken to make ourselves look good.” Both are Labor MPs.


It's beyond time for white parliamentarians to step aside. We need a push for diversity, because history, as well as the present, has shown us it's not going to happen on its own. The white people in power need to learn to step back and pass the mic. They need to be allies. They need to support diverse candidates from the sidelines and behind the curtains. And they most certainly should NOT be defending the poor decisions made by their colleagues.