Today, a new survey released less than a fortnight before the federal election found that 75% of young Australian women and gender-diverse people (18-24 year olds) voting for the first time do not feel that politics is an equal or inclusive space for them.
The Represent Us report released by girls' equality charity Plan International Australia indicated that three-quarters of the more than 1,000 first-time voters surveyed felt that politics was a "white boys club" and that its workplace culture is toxic, sexist and unsafe for women and people of colour.
A third of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) young women said they would not ever consider working in politics because of their cultural or ethnic background, while more than four in 10 young women with a disability said they were hesitant to pursue a political career due to an apparent lack of inclusive practices in parliamentary workplaces.
"The report found that the toxic culture oozing through the heart of Australian politics is deterring girls and young people from careers in Parliament," Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena said in a press statement.
"The result is that we are losing out on an entire generation of bright, powerful and diverse voices who could transform and lead this country for the better."
Last year it was reported 38% of the Australian federal parliament was made up of women, the majority of whom are white. And while there's been an increase in female independent candidates ahead of the 2022 federal election, we're still not anywhere close to achieving gender balance in parliament.
"We are falling behind the rest of the world," said Legena. "In 2006 Australia ranked 22 out of 155 countries on the World Bank’s Gender Index for women’s political empowerment. In 2021, Australia was ranked 54. Over the last 15 years we have dropped 22 places. This is not good enough."
Legena said she was "appalled" that less than 5% of parliamentarians came from diverse ethnicities, and that there are only six Indigenous parliamentarians and zero parliamentarians who have shared that they are trans, non-binary or gender diverse.
Almost 60% of those surveyed said they would be more likely to pursue a career in politics if it was more diverse, with 82% saying there should be diversity targets to ensure women and people across all ethnicities are being represented.
The report comes several months after an independent inquiry into workplace culture at Parliament House revealed just how rampant bullying, sexual harassment and assault are in that environment.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins launched the report Set The Standard last November, which found that one in three employees currently in CPWs (Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces) reported having experienced sexual harassment while working there.
The Human Rights Commission then put forward 28 recommendations to guide parliamentary workplaces in improving their culture to the standards expected of all Australian workplaces. The recommendations sit under a framework underpinned by five key principles: Leadership; Diversity, equality and inclusion; Systems to support performance; Standards, reporting and accountability; and Safety and wellbeing.
“When it comes to political representation, the reality is that we are not there yet, and even when we are, we’re not safe,” Plan International Australia ambassador Yasmin Poole said, following the survey's findings.
“However, I refuse to turn away from democracy and politics despite seeing this inequality and violence play out. As a young woman of colour, I see how doing this would only reward those who want us to remain silent. That does not mean I will pretend this systemic injustice does not exist."
Ahead of the 2022 federal election, Plan International Australia and its youth advocates are calling for the following action points to address sexism and racism in Aussie politics:
1. Political leadership that’s free from sexism and misogyny – with all parties committing to implement the full, transformative suite of recommendations in Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ 'Set the Standard' report in the next 6-18 months
2. All parties to commit to introducing mechanisms to report back to survivors on the implementation of the ‘Set the Standard’ recommendations.
3. All parties setting targets for the representation of women, if they do not already have them, and targets for people of different ethnicities as a first step to ensuring that Federal Parliament reflects the diversity of Australia.
With nearly half (49%) of Australians either born overseas or one or both parents were born overseas — according to most recently available Census data — the need for intersectional, female-led politics is obvious and essential, so that people make informed decisions on policies affecting our diverse population.
Furthermore, women deserve to feel safe when they're at work, no matter where that is, and Parliament House is no exception.