Victorian MP Peter Khalil has joined calls for the Labor party to do more to improve ethnic diversity in parliament after Kristina Keneally was parachuted into the seat of Fowler.
Khalil, the son of Egyptian migrants, said non-Indigenous people of colour made up only 4.1% of the federal parliament “compared to us being 21% of the Australian population”, and the party needed to do better.
Keneally’s move into the seat, which sidelined community candidate Tu Le, has sparked a split within the right faction and angered the outgoing MP Chris Hayes who had wanted Le to take his place.
Khalil said while the decision to install Keneally into the seat to resolve a Senate skirmish was a matter for the New South Wales Labor party, affirmative action rules had shown the success of improving gender equality, and the same should serve as a guide for improving ethnic diversity.
“All political parties need to do better so that our parliament better reflects the diversity of Australia because that diversity both in gender and ethnicity brings broader perspectives, better decision making, public policy and outcomes,” Khalil said.
“Kristina Keneally is a great contributor to our parliament – and the Labor party – a party which has put in place affirmative action rules which have been largely successful in reaching 48% female representatives in the Labor caucus and importantly having women, such as Kristina, in leadership positions – not just making up the numbers,” he said.
“That must be a guide for us to also improve ethnic diversity in our parliament.”
He also said he was “encouraged” by the fact that NSW Labor will consider a motion to recognise the problem of underrepresentation of cultural diversity at its state party conference in October.
Ahead of the conference, the Health Services Union has announced it will split from the right faction because of the Keneally decisions, in a move that reduces the right’s influence and number of delegates.
Khalil’s comments came after Western Australian MP Anne Aly, also of Egyptian heritage, blasted the decision as a “huge failure for Labor on diversity”.
“Diversity, equality and multiculturalism can’t just be a trope that Labor pulls out and parades while wearing a sari and eating some Kung Pao chicken to make ourselves look good,” she told the ABC on Saturday.
“For the Labor party to be in a position where they are pushing aside a community representative from one of the most multicultural electorates is hypocrisy as far as I’m concerned.
The Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek also declined to endorse the move, despite being asked multiple times in an interview on the ABC’s Insiders program to do so.
“I’m proud of the diversity that we already exhibit, and I’ll tell you this, we can always do more and I hope that, Deb [O’Neill] and Kristina have both done great work in the Senate, but I hope we do have a next generation of candidates like Tu Le who will put a hand up again in the future,” Plibersek said.
“I don’t have a vote in this decision, David. This is a matter for the NSW branch of the Labor party and it’ll go through all of its normal processes.”
Keneally addressed critics on Saturday, claiming the “support and endorsement” of the Vietnamese community, standing alongside the Vietnamese Community of Australia federal president, Kate Hoang.
“I pledge they will always have me as a friend and most importantly, always have me as a fierce advocate,” Keneally said.
“I’m proud to be part of a party that gets culturally diversity. And let me take this head on because I’m a little bit disappointed in some of the media coverage here. If you look across south-western Sydney, you’ve got MPs: Ed Husic, Michelle Rowland, Mike Freelander.
“I’m proud to be part of a party that supports gender diversity and supports multicultural diversity.”
She has also won the support of Labor Fairfield city councillor Sera Yilmaz and has secured the backing of the Australian National Imams Council.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, has also defended the party’s record on diversity, and backed Keneally as an important part of his shadow cabinet.
“I’m very proud to lead a diverse team, an effective team, and a team that will be able to lead our nation,” he said.
Keneally has pledged to move to the electorate from her Scotland Island home, which she bought in 2017 for $1.8 m.