opinion

This is what diversity looks like.

I want to ask you a favour. 

Put aside who you voted for in last weekend's federal election.

Just for a minute, please

With rejoice or regret - depending where you sit - still hanging heavily in the air, many of us are deep in political feels right now, I know. And here I am asking you to pop it all aside for a moment, and just… look at a picture. 

A picture?

Yes. Because, as the old adage goes, it’s worth a thousand words. 

A picture doesn’t just offer you a portal into a situation in front of you; it can reflect back on us too. On society.

And so, when my TV screen was illuminated on Saturday night, with the sight of Penny Wong introducing Anthony Albanese as the 31st Prime Minister of Australia - the picture struck me. 

Image: James D. Morgan/Getty. 

Penelope Ying-Yen Wong is a woman; a woman of mixed Malaysian-Chinese and Australian heritage. 

She is the first openly gay woman who is a federal member of parliament. 

Now, Wong is the first foreign-born, foreign minister of Australia. 

And Albanese. 

The name is an overt divergence from Morrison and Rudd and Howard and Hawke and every Canberra suburb back to Barton. And the butt of cruel jokes throughout the campaign.

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Because Anthony Albanese’s father was Italian, and now Albo is the first Aussie PM who is not of Anglo-Celtic ancestry. 

And there on stage, hands linked and pumping the air, stood an elated Wong and Albanese; each the children of one overseas-born parent - just like 46 per cent of all Australians.

Those of us with identity that does not fit into a single. neat. box. That persists and defies expectations and is

It was a picture of modern, multicultural Australia.

And it reminded me of another picture that stays with me. 

At 10 years old, I stood in the hallway before the principal’s office. A large framed photo hung from the wall: A maroon blur of ties and blazers, 600-odd prep-to-12 students of the school. And there I was: thick, black wavy hair, tanned skin, and a thick eyebrow (It was four years before I discovered wax. Go easy.) 

Standing one metre back, you could pinpoint me with ease.

I looked 'different'; the child of a Maltese-born father, and Australian Ashkenazi Jewish mother. 

And I remember what it felt to be the only one. Literally. I was the only person of Maltese-heritage in the school, and my mum and I were the only Jewish people in our Victorian regional city at that time. 

'Other'.

And when you are reminded by your difference by casual or overt comments, and don’t see anyone else who looks like you in your immediate sphere or in celebrated highly-visible positions (like, a Prime Minister, or celebrated media personalities on TV, or even a model in a Myer catalogue), you subconsciously receive a message that there is no place for you. You are not of value. You don’t belong. 

Albanese began his victory address.

"I want Australia to continue to be a country that no matter where you live, who you worship, who you love or what your last name is, that places no restrictions on your journey in life,” he proclaimed.

*****

The appointment of Albanese and Wong to two of the highest offices in the land is not the full story of multicultural celebration in this election.

As reported in The Age yesterday, the incoming federal parliament is a "watershed moment" for diverse representation. 

Before I get into that, it would be remiss not to mention even some of those diverse few Liberal MPs who lost their seats - the first Indigenous lower house member, Ken Wyatt; now former federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, a Jewish-Australian whose great-grandparents and relatives perished in the Holocaust; Dave Sharma, the country’s first federal MP of Indian descent; and Hong Kong-born, Gladys Liu. They are an undeniable loss - most especially for the Coalition and minority communities they inherently also represented. 

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Josh Frydenberg speaks against antisemitism. Article continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

But this is what the new parliamentary picture looks like: 13 members of parliament - 10 of whom are women - are from non-Indigenous, non-European backgrounds. 

Three new Indigenous MPs will be welcomed, an all-time high of 10 Indigenous representatives.

There will be double the number of Asian-Australian federal MPs, including eight women.

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Like, Dai Le, the Independent member for Fowler, who arrived to Australia as a child from Vietnam. She is the first Vietnamese-Australian refugee to serve as a federal MP.

Cassandra Fernando, the new MP for Holt, is the first Sri Lankan-born woman to be elected into federal parliament.

Zaneta Mascarenhas’ parents migrated to Australia in the late-1970s from Goa, India. She has become the first woman to represent the electorate of Swan. 

And Fatima Payman – who came to these shores as a Muslim-Afghan child refugee – is also on her way to becoming WA’s Labor Senator.

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Politics aside, these women bring more with them than a new title; they offer hope to so many people in this country, long unseen.

Adrienne Tam is a Chinese-Australian woman - and my colleague - Mamamia's Senior Features and Opinion Writer. She reflected, “Forget about dating reality TV shows - this is where representation really matters."

"These are the people that little Asian girls and boys can look up to and aspire to be. These are the people that my parents and grandparents can look at and say, 'They speak for me'. 

"It's a great feeling to know that whatever your ethnicity, you can represent your community and your country. You are not simply 'other'. You can belong."

Her sentiments were echoed by another of our colleagues, co-host of the Mamamia’s Lowbrow podcast and social media producer, Emily Vernem. Born in Australia to Indian parents, she expressed her pride in seeing the election of "these amazing women".

"It’s something that I genuinely believed I wouldn’t see in my lifetime because, yes, things are changing, but from what I’ve seen in my 26 years, it has been slow, and at times even halted."

She's right. While the numbers towards diversity have improved (around 6 per cent), they are a far lag behind the estimated 21 per cent of Australians who come from non-European backgrounds.

“But to see these women representing our nation makes me feel safe, heard and understood. They’re the faces that I’ve grown up with, the faces that I trust and the faces that make me feel empowered.”

It's progress.

So yes, the picture matters.

Because it sends a message - to those people pushed to the margins, who are unfairly charged with breaking barriers that shouldn't exist in modern Australia. 

Like, for the kid being raised in public housing by a single mum who is doing her best on a disability pension. 

It’s a visual statement that says it's okay to dream and "reach for the stars".

And really, anything is possible. 

Keen to read more from Rebecca Davis? You can find her articles here, or follow her on Instagram.

Feature Image: Getty/Twitter/Mamamia.

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