I started this post way back in November 2020 shortly after the General Election, but never quite got round to completing it. I wanted to make the point that some sections of society are still excluded from decision making processes that affect them, but as often happens for me, it morphed into something no quite as I intended. So it’s been sitting on the shelf until I decided what to do with it. I’m still not sure if it’s worth publishing, but it’s either that or bin it. I’ve chosen the former.
It’s a fact of life that most legislatures around the world are scarcely representative of the population they represent. For example, in most western democracies, wealthy males with sometimes tenuous connections to Christianity are over represented, while women, minority groups of all types and youth are underrepresented.
For some, this is the “natural order” and they see nothing wrong or untoward with this situation. Others keenly feel that in order to have all voices heard, it is necessary that diversity in the makeup of the legislature should approximate that of the community from which it is drawn. I lean towards the latter. But it would seem that most people here have no opinion one way or the other in this matter. Perhaps in this nation it might be understandable, but is it desirable?.
Aotearoa New Zealand does better than many other nations when it comes to diversity within its legislature, although we still have a long way to go. One example would be that approximately one on four or one in five Kiwis (depending on the measurements chosen) have some form of disability but no MPs (Members of Parliament) have publicly admitted to having a disability.
Of special interest to me is that although somewhere between 5% and 12% of the population is neurodiverse (depending on how you define neurodiversity), as far as I can discover, no MP is neurodiverse.
People of asian ancestry, most of whom are of Chinese or Indian descent are also underrepresented. They make up 12% of the population but only 7% of the Parliament.
In the October Elections, fewer Māori were returned to the Parliament than in the previous two general elections. In the Previous Parliament, 23% of MPs were Māori. This has now dropped to 21%, but remains higher than the 17% of the general population who identify as Māori. Pasifika people (those from Pacific island nations) too, while making up 7% of the general population, make up 9% of MPs.
Women have almost reached parity with men. In this country females slightly outnumber males (100:97), and now make up 48% of all MPs. When compared to our neighbours (Australia 31%, Pacific nations averaging 6%) we are doing very well. When we look at gender representation by political party, we see that the parties of the left have more female representation than male, while for parties on the right, the opposite is true.
Approximately 4% of Kiwis are openly LGBTQI+ although the real number is most likely higher. Parliamentarians are more forthcoming in this regard as 11% of MPs are openly LGBTQI+. This lead to one British tabloid headlining an article with “NZ Parliament Gayest in World”. Although this nation was the first where an openly transgender person was elected to the national legislature, there are currently no openly trans MPs.
Religion and spirituality
I’m not going to attempt to define what religion or spirituality are as even academics in these fields cannot agree. In fact some definitions are mutually exclusive. In the NZ context it can be confusing. Around a third of the population claim a Christian affiliation, and only 45% of the population claim any religious affiliation according to the 2018 census.
Other surveys indicate that 25% have a firm belief in a deity or higher power and a further 45% believe in some form of higher power to some extent for at least some of the time. Within the Christian community the concept of God ranges from an omniscient omnipotent being to metaphor/personification/symbol representing our highest ideals, and the trend is towards greater polarisation of these opposing concepts.
The consensus among both the religious and non-religious alike is that New Zealand is one of the most secular nations on this planet. Whether one is religious or not, or is affiliated to a religious or spiritual group is usually a private matter, and that applies to politicians as much as it does to the general population.
This makes comparing the religion of the legislature and general population somewhat difficult as the religious beliefs of most MPs is not on public record. However, anecdotally it does appear that parties on the right have a slightly higher proportion of “religious” however that might be defined, than parties on the left. Based on the limited amount of information available, it appears that religion and spirituality amongst MPs is not significantly different from the general population.
While we do have some MPs in their twenties, and in the past a few have been in their late teens, I suspect this is one form of diversity where the “nature of the job” will means that the young and the old will always be underrepresented. There is a small movement calling for the voting age to be lowered from 18 to 16, and if it ever came to a referendum I’d support it, but for the time being only the Greens consider it a topic even worthwhile discussing.
I’m not in favour of quotas to ensure all forms of diversity are proportionally represented, and yet our electoral system (MMP) is based on the premise that political parties should be represented in parliament proportionally based on their support in the voting population. Isn’t this a form of quota based on political affiliation? If we demand proportional representation across the political spectrum, why not across other spectrums of society?
I believe that legislatures should reflect the diversity of those who elect them, although not necessarily in exact proportion to the population. For society to be truly inclusive, everyone should feel that their voice can be heard. For those with a disability and for the neurodiverse, there’s clearly a long way to go. We should be proud of our success in achieving the diversity we have in the Parliament, but let’s not rest on our laurels just yet.