There’s a big problem with Anthony Albanese’s victory lap over the ‘diversity’ of his new Cabinet; it isn’t particularly diverse at all.
A fortnight ago, the Prime Minister rushed to insist his team was ‘inclusive’ and ‘as diverse as Australia itself’ – pointing to the appointment of ten female Cabinet Ministers as well as the first Muslim Cabinet Minister.
The praise from the progressive commentariat appeared automatically.
The ABC’s David Speers suggested the Albanese Cabinet was ‘a more accurate reflection of Modern Australia than any of its predecessors’, while UNSW academics Louise Chappell and Claire Annesley labeled it as ‘Australia’s most diverse ever’. Youth advocate and self-described ‘intersectional feminist’ Yasmin Poole was most effusive. She posted a photo on Twitter of Labor’s leadership group flanked by their new caucus colleagues with the caption: ‘Progress. At last. Breathe it all in.’
The new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, joined in the festival of self-congratulation, tweeting:
‘I’ve always believed that our parliament best serves the community when it reflects the community.’
There is wisdom at the face of Wong’s observation; representatives should be exactly that – representative. And, over time, as goes the nation, so should go the parliament. But ‘reflecting the community’ needs to be about more than immutable characteristics like sex and skin colour.
To be fair dinkum about diversity, you ought to be – first and foremost – fair dinkum about diversity of opinion and diversity of life experience.
Looking at Team Albo through this lens shows a Cabinet that falls well short of ‘reflecting the community’.
A simple analysis of the backgrounds of new Cabinet Ministers reveals an achingly homogenous grouping of inside-the-bubble types – dominated by career apparatchiks and unionists – a far cry from the blue-collar Cabinets of Labor heroes like Ben Chifley and Gough Whitlam.
Out of twenty-three Cabinet Ministers, just one – the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney – has not worked as a political staffer or trade union official. Burney has, however, spent the last quarter of a century in taxpayer funded-roles as a senior public servant, state and federal MP.
Unsurprisingly, the most common occupation among Cabinet Ministers is political staffer. Sixty-five per cent (fifteen) have been employed as advisers or electorate officers to state or federal MPs.
Forty-seven per cent (eleven) have worked as trade union officials. Incidentally, the last time forty-seven per cent of Australian workers were union members was in 1986, just after Anthony Albanese had begun working as a Researcher for Hawke government Minister, Tom Uren. Today, just fourteen per cent of Australian workers are union members.
Perhaps most worrying of all is the lack of private sector experience in Labor’s leadership group, made up of Albanese, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, Senate Leader Penny Wong, and Deputy Senate Leader Don Farrell. Only Farrell has more than five years’ experience working outside of politics and the union movement – as a shop assistant, mail sorter, and waiter in the early 1970s. Between them, Albanese, Marles, and Wong – the Prime Minister, Defence Minister, and Foreign Minister – have just six years of private sector experience; extraordinary considering the weight of their portfolios and the fact that more than four in five Australian workers are employed in the private sector.
There’s a clear and present dearth of private sector experience in the Albanese Cabinet.
Contrary to the claims of their breathless barrackers in the media, the Albanese government aren’t diversity champions, they’re diversity laggards.
Charlie Chadwick is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs
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