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A call for diversity

By Conrad Liveris - posted Monday, 23 June 2014

Advocating diversity is more than the gambit of the left or minorities. Often it is held as a soft issue that is about social policy. It is a political and economic conversation too.

Last week my newsfeed flared up with John Howard speaking at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty. Prime Minister Howard claimed that political parties' memberships are less representative than the people who vote for the party.

Some would claim that being a white man who was educated in law at a top institution that Howard is one of the least diverse men going around. We see people who are similar to him across our media and in public life.


He is right though. It is oft noted that memberships of the parties are falling, likewise that of trade unions and the establishment clubs. With this fall, hegemons are created.

Liberal and Labor each have somewhere in the vicinity of 40,000 people in their membership. In a country of around 23 million people that is a small number. It edges on minute.

We are a multicultural society; however we seem to have been hijacked by a narrow representation of our nation. Parliamentarians are mostly of European descent, 70% male and most have qualifications in the humanities, law and economics.

It was only 1962 that Aboriginal people had the right to vote and stand for the Commonwealth parliament, and Ken Wyatt is the first Indigenous person to sit in the House of Representatives.

Politicians always embrace the idea of diversity – having more women and ethnic diversity in parliament is always going to be supported. Because we know that the sum of all innovation, knowledge and talent cannot lie in the hands of a few or one group.

When Julie Bishop was announced to be the only woman in cabinet last year there was a feminist furore, and rightly so. The previous Labor government had ended up having 11 women in cabinet. The ALP has maintained this gender diversity in opposition.


The Liberals are widely criticised, internally and externally, on not supporting women. They wave a white flag of merit, but that has little grounding because we know that the leadership maintains support through state and regional alliances which give undue favour to the less deserving.

McKinsey and Co. in 2012 reported that the best performing companies have embraced diversity as a core tenet of their operations. How come our parliament cannot?

Are we missing something? Is ethnic and gender diversity a bad thing?

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About the Author

Conrad Liveris is a Community Advocate and Operations Analyst, working in business development and policy with a focus on gender equality and intergenerational issues.

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