Exclusive: 71 per cent of Australians want a more diverse parliament, poll reveals

Days before the federal election, an SBS News-commissioned poll has found the majority of Australians want to see more women, young people and Indigenous Australians in the corridors of power.

An Essential Research poll, commissioned exclusively for SBS News, has found 71 per cent of Australians believe the country would benefit from a greater representation of under-represented groups in parliament.

The message was clearest on gender and age: 46 per cent of respondents thought having more women MPs would benefit the country, while 40 per cent thought having more younger MPs would.

Do you think the country would benefit from having more Federal MPs from any of the following groups?
Source: SBS News

About a third of people called for greater more representation of Indigenous Australians and people with a disability.

And 17 per cent think more LGBTI individuals and Australians born overseas in parliament would be of benefit to Australia.

The poll was conducted last week with 1,201 respondents taking part.

Young Australians versus Coalition voters

The poll showed that younger Australians, in particular, see the benefit in greater diversity among MPs.

People aged 18-34 were the age group most likely to believe in the benefit of having people from different identity groups overall at 78 per cent, and in particular more young MPs.

Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John is currently the youngest person in parliament at age 24.
Source: AAP

In terms of voters, those saying they supported the Coalition were less likely to see the benefits in greater diversity of MPs in parliament.

Thirty-one per cent of Coalition voters said the country would not benefit from having more MPs in any of the under-represented groups asked about. This is compared to 19 per cent of Labor and Greens voters.

Overall, 29 per cent of Australians did not think the country would benefit from having MPs from any of the groups.

Too many 'middle-aged white men'

Lecturer at ANU's School of Politics and International Relations Dr Katrine Beauregard told SBS News she was not surprised that the majority of Australians want a more diverse parliament.

The current makeup of Australia's parliament is far from a representative snapshot of the country, she said. 

"[Many MPs] are middle-aged white men from somewhat well-off backgrounds ... that went to private schools, the same universities. They come from the same pathway."

"If you're looking at two candidates or two elected representatives in terms of path, or where the people came from, they tend to come from very a similar situation, not just in terms of race and how much money they have, but what type of jobs they had, how many houses they have."

Source: Parliamentary Library
Source: SBS News

Dr Beauregard said gender, in particular, was an area of concern, with the Inter-Parliamentary Union currently ranking Australia joint 48th in the world for gender representation in its Lower House along with Peru and Angola. 

While neither Liberal or Labor can boast to have equal gender representation in the current parliament, Labor is far closer.

Out of the Liberal Party's 106 seats in federal parliament, just 19 are held by women. By contrast, women now make up nearly half of Labor’s federal politicians, after the party introduced quotas in the 1990s.

Labor's Senator Penny Wong and Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek.
Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted calls for a quota, citing the preselection of about more than 20 women as Liberal candidates for the election on Saturday.

'Encouraging to hear'

Lilliana Tei, president of the student union at the University of Sydney, said the treatment of female MPs over recent years put her off pursuing a political career.

"I think it has put people off and me personally, it's made me feel like it's maybe not a viable career," she said.

But the 25-year-old said the new poll results gave her hope.

"It is encouraging to hear that there is a poll out there that suggests people do want more women and more young people in parliament."

Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi told SBS News while there is a lot of focus on gender diversity, migrant representation in politics is a conversation Australia is yet to have.

"The reality is that no one is going to roll out the red carpet for us. I think it's time for multicultural communities to start organising politically and actively," she said.

And out of 150 people in parliament, only four are Indigenous; Ken Wyatt for the Liberal Party, and Linda Burney, Senator Pat Dodson, and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy for Labor.

Dr Beauregard said it's up to the parties themselves to improve diversity.

"It has to come from the political parties as these are the organisations that control candidate's elections," she said.

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Published 16 May 2019 at 4:28pm, updated 16 May 2019 at 4:33pm
By Nick Baker, Abbie O'Brien