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We need more ethnic names for our electorates

By Kim Fischer 14 May 2018 39

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.

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35 Responses to
We need more ethnic names for our electorates
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chewy14 10:49 pm 14 May 18

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.

Lucy Baker 9:23 pm 14 May 18

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

HiddenDragon 8:53 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.

    John Moulis 4:35 pm 16 May 18

    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.

Peter Bee 8:37 pm 14 May 18

No more Prime ministers would be start.

Julie Coker-Godson 7:03 pm 14 May 18

Leave things as they are and stop trying to cause trouble.

Terry Butters 6:45 pm 14 May 18

Wow, I have been losing sleep for decades about the names of our electorates, I guess someone has a job thinking of meaningless things to spend money on . .

Michael Doyle 6:32 pm 14 May 18

What absolute garbage.

David Brown 4:29 pm 14 May 18

I disagree. We should be honouring our heritge before it disappears.

Kim Fischer 3:54 pm 14 May 18

I honestly thought the name would be Namadgi, as it is was 20 years ago.

Kim Fischer 3:14 pm 14 May 18

Here is a response to a few people who have emailed me saying that my views are too PC: My first submission to the electoral commission was purely about the redistribution and not names (https://aec.gov.au/.../act18-s0014-kim-fischer-and...). I didn't think it was important. But after the AEC came up with the Member for Cox (a new seat in Vic) and the Member for Bean, it made me think. The AEC would prefer to have those weird sounding names than the weird sounding names in my family.

My family members are from Eastern Europe although I was born in Australia. Many of them anglicised their names because they were embarrassed. They even were a bit jealous of me because I ended up with an Anglo-sounding surname: Fischer (which people still mispronounce!). I want people like my relatives to be proud of their background and not ashamed.

Our monuments, street names, and electorates do skew towards Anglo-Saxon males. I am not trying to be PC, I just want my heritage to be more than one line in a history book. The line is: "There was mass migration to Australia from southern and eastern Europe after World War II."

I do disagree that someone should have to be born in Australia to be honored though. If they are citizens who have made significant contributions towards Australia and its culture, regardless of their birthplace, I think it is fair enough to consider them for recognition.

Australia prides itself on being the land of the fair go. I'm not asking for quotas, just for the AEC to think more broadly about the symbolism of the choices they make.

Thank you for writing to me. I do genuinely like to hear comments, including opposing viewpoints.

    Kim Fischer 3:48 pm 14 May 18

    Yeah - I probably did!!! No - I wasn't at all implying that Anglo-Saxon people can't achieve high office. The thought never crossed my mind! I just thought some others should be considered.

    Matt Donnelly 5:39 pm 14 May 18

    Kim, I strongly agree with Chewy14’s comment on the RiotACT site that such decisions should be based on merit, not quotas. Implying that the AEC redistribution committee’s decision may have been ethnically biased is very brave of you when you have no evidence to back it up.

    I am confident that the name was chosen because of Charles Bean’s achievements and love of Canberra, not his ethnic background. I’m sorry to read you do not feel the same.

    That said, I must admit I’m dreading the jokes/puns about Bean next election. The AEC will have to employ Bean counters to tally votes, elected candidates will be has-Beans, while those who change address just to run in another electorate may be labelled Bean-flickers 🙂

    Kim Fischer 5:40 pm 14 May 18

    thanks Matt. I was looking at page 70 of this report and thought that maybe Guirgola and some others should be on the list: https://www.aec.gov.au/Electorates/Redistributions/2017/act/proposed-report/files/act-proposed-redistribution-april-2018.pdf

    Matt Donnelly 6:37 pm 14 May 18

    I certainly agree with you that being born in Australia shouldn’t be a requirement. I have no doubt that Guirgola loved Australia, and that was his motivation for adopting citizenship in 2000.

Kim Fischer 3:10 pm 14 May 18

Yeah, if things are seen more frequently, like place names, they become less alien. Yeah there are bigger issues, but this helps break down some barriers.

TonyMikinos 2:54 pm 14 May 18

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 heywood 1:12 pm 14 May 18

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

chewy14 12:27 pm 14 May 18

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_husband 6:24 am 15 May 18

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

    chewy14 8:48 am 15 May 18

    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.

Brian Hack 11:42 am 14 May 18

Stopped reading after ‘yet another white Anglo Saxon male Charles Bean’.

The mindset of the author is pretty clear, don’t let the 230 year history of Australian population demographics ruin your agenda.

    Kim Fischer 3:50 pm 14 May 18

    Goodness, I don't really have an agenda! I thought some others, particularly Guirgola should be considered.

Peter Brassington 10:03 am 14 May 18

Why does everything have to be so politically correct?

Matt Donnelly 9:46 am 14 May 18

Kim, what “we need” and what you want aren’t always the same.

Keran Niquet 9:25 am 14 May 18

No. Who cares?

Capital Retro 8:33 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.

Dave Ferymtok Ward 8:11 am 14 May 18

Just when you think the PC brigade must be running out of things to whine about...

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