15 May 2018

We need more ethnic names for our electorates

| Kim Fischer
Join the conversation

ACT electorates need to represent the diversity of the ACT. Photo: Jack Mohr.

Ensuring that the Australian Electoral Commission operates with integrity and in a non-partisan way is essential to the Australian political process.

Unfortunately, the current redistribution process is weakened by its lack of transparency and self-awareness.

By law, the members of each state’s redistribution committee are chosen by virtue of the public service roles they occupy – the Australian Electoral Commissioner as well as the three state-based positions of Australian Electoral Officer, Surveyor-General, and Auditor-General.

Similarly, the AEC Chair and non-judicial appointee member are appointed by the Governor-General from a shortlist of eminent judges and from the list of public service agency heads, respectively.

The lack of diversity in members of the AEC redistribution committee has the potential to introduce bias.

This has been most recently seen in the ACT redistribution proposal. The committee seemed to have few qualms in discarding all proposals received for electorate names. Instead, they have endorsed yet another white Anglo-Saxon male, Charles Bean.

Despite 30% of Australians having a culturally and linguistically diverse background, only around 5% of seats out of the 150 are named after significant CALD figures. Of the 70 electorate names considered by the Committee, it appears that only one (Ruth Arndt) was from a CALD background.

This lack of diversity is surprising and regrettable, since the ACT has many significant people from migrant backgrounds. Why was Romaldo Giurgola, the architect of Parliament House, not deemed suitable for consideration? The instigator of the Hare-Clark system in the ACT, Bogey Musidlak? Or Amirah Inglis, a prolific Canberra-based writer and author from Belgium? Or even Pawe? Strzelecki, the explorer who named Mount Kosciuszko?

Choosing an electorate name is important because it becomes part of our culture. Regardless of the norms of the time, we should not be honouring Bean, an anti-Semite, when there is the opportunity to improve the representation of non-Anglo-Saxon names in Australia’s electorates. Choosing a more diverse option would familiarise people with names that sound alien to them.

With more names like Kosciuszko, Chan, Gupta, and Nguyen for our electorates, people with names hailing from those backgrounds will feel included in Australian society.

The public should know who was responsible for drawing up the list of 70 names for consideration, how diversity was considered as part of the listing process, and what criteria were used in shortlisting. If a vote on the final name is required, the vote of each committee member should be on the public record.

There is a similar lack of transparency in the process of drawing boundaries.

The ACT’s districts, and especially those centred around the town centres of Belconnen, Woden, Gungahlin, and Tuggeranong have a strong local identity and community overlap. Many people in each district work, shop locally, and send their children to local schools.

Reasonable redistribution proposals that preserved these town centres were submitted for consideration. Yet the redistribution committee’s justification for discarding these alternative proposals was scant to non-existent. Their report simply notes that “many of the suggestions and comments on suggestions received advocated for a northern-central-southern split” as if that was sufficient justification.

Receiving 10 submissions when the ACT has a population of 410,000 is not enough to prove popular support for a particular boundary approach. Some of these submissions were not even from the ACT!

I call on the AEC to formalise and publish specific guidelines for carrying out future redistributions. This should include specifying the mechanisms for ensuring that all Australians are considered when naming seats, justifying a preference for specific electorate boundaries, and handling of arguments made in public submissions.

If the public does not have confidence that their submissions will get fair consideration, they will conclude that participation in our electoral processes is a waste of time.

Kim Fischer is a social commentator and ran as a Labor candidate for Ginninderra at the 2016 ACT election.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Share them with us by commenting below.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Matthew Callaghan,
Because there’s no reasonable discussion being suggested?

This is simply a whinge that the name chosen doesn’t suit the author’s wish for “diversity” to be a contributing factor in name choices.

If you can’t see why that might annoy some people then I don’t know what to tell you.

Kim Fischer is a federal public servant. I am glad such comment is allowed now!

HiddenDragon8:53 pm 14 May 18

Thinking about the development of this town, particularly the commercial development, including many businesses which are valued and relied on by Canberrans and political visitors from the rest of Australia, a name with an Hellenic origin might be appropriate.

How about the suburb of Moulis? After all, my late father and uncle began the Bacchus Tavern, Charlies Restaurant, Neptune’s Tavern, Bogarts, the Regatta Restaurant and the Tower Restaurant. Look what happened to the Tower after they died.

I’m with Kim on this. Australia’s long history of white Anglo male privilege means that a lot of our notable achievers have been white Anglo males. This not only discriminates against all those (including me) who aren’t white Anglo, it also discriminates against those who haven’t achieved much.

So like Kim, I call on the AEC committee to effectively rule out people with Anglo names in the interest of diversity. I’ll go further – I call on the committee to rule out achievers, on the grounds that they have probably benefited from privilege of some sort or another.

So, if you’ve achieved very little in your life, if you haven’t won anything since your Year 7 egg and spoon race, Kim would like to hear from you. As long as your surname sounds suitably foreign. To Kim that is.

justin heywood1:12 pm 14 May 18

Honour people for their contributions, not for the way their name is spelt. This is just more vacuous virtue signalling.

How about they just pick names dependent on the historical impact that person has had on our country.

Considering that, is it really surprising that white, anglo saxon males make up the bulk of these names because of the clear and obvious impact and legacy of those types of people throughout Australian history?

Token efforts at “diversity” over substance and merit does no one any favours and lessens us as a country and a society.

house_husband6:24 am 15 May 18

Then I’d recommend Chang in honour of the famous heart surgeon Victor. Nothing token about his contribution.

Victor Chang, a perfect example of a top Australian, although in this case I think Bean would still have him covered, particularly in the links to Canberra in being the driving force behind the War Memorial.

Capital Retro8:33 am 14 May 18

If we did that we would then be obliged to erect signs at every entrance on the boundary to explain the province of the name.

We already have signs everywhere like this as well as our nebulous relations with “sister cities” in other countries.

Enough is enough.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.