Parliamentarians should go beyond ethnic borders

Priyanca Radhakrishnan – 

There has been much ado over representation in the mainstream media recently, especially since the Labour Party list was announced.

The diversity debate lies simmering just beneath the surface, rearing its head during election years.

Phrases like ‘Identity Politics’ are bandied about, while some call for ethnic representation. Others claim that merit is more important.

Candidates should be there because they have earned it – as though one cannot be both competent and ‘ethnic’ and a woman, all at the same time.

Equal Representation

Labour’s Northland candidate, Willow-Jean Prime was spot on when she said, in reference to her list ranking, “I believe that I am there first for my skills and reputation and my proven ability to be a hard worker. If you look at my CV and qualifications and the work I have done I believe I am there on merit but I am also happy to be there to ensure that we have equal representation, and I am happy to be there as a Maori representative as well.”

I feel the same. Calibre and competence have always been the bottom line when it comes to Labour candidate selections.

However, there is also a need to ensure that our caucus reflects Aotearoa New Zealand’s population.

About 12% of the population identified as Asian in the 2013 Census and it is important that the highest decision-making body in the country reflects this diversity.

Establishing Identity

Every Member of Parliament (MP), whether an Electorate or List MP, must be able to engage with and represent different groups of people.

That is a given, and that is partly why MPs like Phil Goff and Ross Robertson were incredibly popular in their ethnically diverse electorates.

When Michael Wood was campaigning in the Mt Roskill electorate by-election to succeed Mr Goff, some political commentators said that his ethnicity was a potential barrier to his success, considering that a large percentage of the electorate is ‘ethnic.’

They were proven wrong. Michael Wood won in the by-election held on December 3, 2016 with a thumping majority, securing 66.51% (11623) of the votes polled.

The role-models

Why do we need ethnic representation?

Firstly, role-modelling is important. Seeing is believing.

Younger generations need role models who look and sound like them to know that it is possible. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.

Secondly, the more diverse the Parliament is, the more experiences and contexts the House of Representatives would be able to represent.

Finally, why should we not be at the table?

New Zealanders from ethnic minority communities are as capable and competent as anyone else. We are not there just to tick the representation box; we are there because we have the same right as anyone else to participate in the political system and the capacity to be able to do justice.

Beyond community

I am often asked whether I will be a strong voice for Indians in Parliament.

I firmly believe that all MPs are there to serve New Zealand more broadly.

However, we also bring with us different lived experiences, values, skills and world views. My work experience as a social worker, human rights advocate and policy analyst means that I bring specific skill sets to Parliament.

My work, engaging with ethnic communities, means that I also bring a keen understanding of the needs, concerns, aspirations and hopes of these communities, including our Indian communities.

Changing the narrative

Late last year, I was selected by members of the Labour Party to be their candidate in the electorate of Maungakiekie – a seat that is winnable for Labour.

I am running because the values, beliefs and principles on which I was brought up means that I am not afraid to fight for what is right.

I also believe that I have the skills and experience to be an effective MP.

I am also doing this because we need to change the narrative. Political parties across the spectrum have historically selected Pakeha candidates for safe and marginal seats. It is time to change that and I am proud that Labour is leading the charge on that front.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan was born in India, educated in Singapore and New Zealand. She has been with the Labour Party for about 11 years in various capacities. She is the Party’s candidate in the Maungakiekie constituency in the general election scheduled to be held on Saturday, September 23, 2017.

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Photo Caption:

Priyanca Radhakrishnan with Labour Party Leader Andrew Little (Centre) and Labour MP Stuart Nash at the launch of ‘Electionlink’ pages of Indian Newslink held at Raviz Restaurant in Botany Junction, Auckland on February 28, 2017.

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