Welcome to the most diverse parliament in Australia's history
A reflection on the 47th Australian Parliament
There is so much that is remarkable about the 47th Australian Parliament.
It is the most gender-equal parliament in Australia’s history. Women look likely to hold a record 41 per cent of the 227 seats across both the House of Representatives and the Senate. These women are predominantly in the Labor party, the Coalition, the Greens, and in an influential crossbench, which contains the “Teal” Independents.
4.4 per cent of politicians are First Nations peoples
It is the most diverse parliament in Australia’s history. A remarkable number of First Nations women have been elected. Linda Burney, Marion Scrymgour, Lidia Thorpe, Dorinda Cox, Malarndirri McArthy, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Jana Stewart and Jacqui Lambie.
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Along with their male First Nations colleagues, we now have across the Senate and House of Representatives a total representation of 4.4 per cent (with a national Indigenous population of 3.3 per cent). We have further diversity because there is also a record number of newly elected multicultural Australian representatives, with members born in or with ancestry from Asia.
The radical changes to our representatives indicate a freeing up of access and opportunities for more people. Therefore, it may also be the most inclusive parliament in Australia’s history.
As a result of these shifts, the 47th Parliament is perhaps the most “representative” parliament we’ve ever had. Representation is an important characteristic of our parliament. The 151 members of the House of Representatives represent electorates of approximately the same numbers of voters. For success, a candidate must be able to persuade the electors that they truly represent the views of the citizens in their electorate.
In a country as diverse as ours, a more diverse parliament – with more women, more First Nations representatives and representatives of other racial and cultural diversities and abilities ought to be the case. But it often isn’t the case because the power and influence mechanisms of politics (and industry and religion) take time to catch up with shifts in culture. This parliament became more representative of our nation through radical electoral pressure. It was “a speaking of truth” to those in power on issues like gender, culture and the environment.
Is there a theological way that Christians can reflect on these changes?
Given the tidal wave of women of great merit entering this 47th parliament, our mind may immediately go to historical narratives in Scripture of strong and talented women. Women like Miriam, a prophet sent by God (Micah 6:4), Deborah, the judge of noble character, who led with such wisdom and authority (Judges 4,5), of the respected Huldah (2 Kings 22:13), of Noadiah, a prophetess in Nehemiah’s day( Neh 6:14), of diligent Anna (Luke 2: 36-37), of the renowned daughters of Philip mentioned briefly in Acts 21:9 and more expansively by early historian, Eusebius (EH 3.37.1; EH 5.17.3).
There is also Sarah, Miriam, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, Esther and others. (I am grateful to scholar Marg Mowczko for these lists). Then, of course, there is trailblazing Mary, along with the businesswomen and other women in the New Testament Church.
Of all of these women, the words spoken over Esther seem to me to be most poignant for our women entering parliament:
“And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NIV)
Our nation is facing a time of great crisis and change. We need these strong women, and we need our men, to help guide our best response to the economic, political and cultural challenges we face. Close to my heart is the challenging prevalence of domestic and family violence. The very presence of so many women in parliament should help to change the narrative of how we raise our young men and women to treat each other and how we call out disrespect and sexism and create a culture in this nation that is safe and equal.
First Nations politicians, Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!
It is particularly pleasing to see so many First Nations people and women elected to parliament. Each year, NAIDOC has a theme. In 2022, the theme is ‘Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!’ In this election, we have seen many First Nations people rise to that challenge and realise the dreams of many. In 2018, the theme was “Because of her, we can!” With so many First Nations women in our parliament, we can have confidence in the role models these women provide for our First Nations’ young people and broader communities.
How marvellous that our 47th Parliament symbolises such diversity, equity and inclusion. It should inspire us all.
Perhaps a broader theological reflection is on the picture of heaven that Scripture gives us. We read that in heaven there will be a “great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9). This idea of heaven is a diverse one. The Christian gospel is a gospel of reconciliation and healing, where its subjects are given the ministry of reconciling people to each other and to God. Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice was an inclusive sacrifice – for the whole world’s sins.
The gospel is good news that breaks the divide between men and women, slave and free, Jew and gentile (Galatians 3:28). Our churches can fail to display this joyous and diverse image, despite our prayers that things will be on earth as they are in heaven. But how marvellous that our 47th Parliament symbolises such diversity, equity and inclusion. It should inspire us all.
Pray for our elected officials
In an election, there are losses and gains, and this election saw some outstanding candidates lose their seats. For all its advantages, being a politician observably means taking on a voluntary vow of vulnerability every three years. Our parliamentarians work hard, make many sacrifices and are truly servants of our nation. Let’s be thankful for all of them and the blessings they give us whilst in parliament. May God bless those who lost their seats, opening new doors for service after a time of well-earned rest.
In our church prayer book, here is the prayer we pray regularly for our nation
We give thanks for this land and the diversity of its peoples. Grant that we may so honour one another that all may be enriched by our common heritage and freed from despair, poverty and exclusion.
For those who pray, this is a worthy prayer for the 47th Parliament of Australia.
The Reverend Tracy Lauersen is an Anglican Minister in Victoria and the Convenor of the Churches Family Violence Working Group.
Clockwise from top left – Jacqui Lambie (Jacquie Lambie, Facebook), Linda Burney (Australian Labor Party), Lidia Thorpe (The Australian Greens Party), Malarndirri McCarthy (Australian Labor Party), Dorinda Cox (Adendagostino, Wikimedia), Jana Stewart (Australian Labor Party), Marion Scrymgour (Australian Labor Party), Jacinta Nampijinpa Price (The Nationals).