New Zealand's diverse new parliament

With the preliminary results of the general election in, this term’s Parliament is shaping up to be one of the most diverse New Zealand has seen.

More voices from across society – from LGBT+ communities to people of colour and refugees – will feature in the country’s leadership for the next three years with a number of new faces making history as they take their seats as Members of Parliament.

Among those is Labour’s Vanushi Walters, New Zealand’s first Sri Lankan-born MP. She won the Auckland seat of Upper Harbour, previously held by National MP Paula Bennett, with a margin of 1415 votes over National’s Jake Bezzant.

Vanushi Walters from Labour PArty page

Labour's Vanushi Walters is New Zealand's first Sri Lankan MP. Photo: Labour Party

Another history-maker is Dr Gaurav Sharma from Labour, who won his electorate seat in Hamilton West with a margin of 4423 over previous MP National’s Tim Macindoe. Hamilton West has traditionally been a National stronghold, with Macindoe holding the seat since 2008.

The Indian Weekender reported Sharma’s win created history, as he is the first MP of Indian descent to win an electorate seat in Hamilton West.  

Sharma joined the Labour Party as a member and volunteer in 2014, running as a candidate for the first time in 2017. As a young boy, he moved to New Zealand from India with his family, and has since worked across public health and policy, and is a board member of the Auckland Refugee Council. He works as a general practitioner in Nawton, Hamilton.

Joining him among the Labour seats is Chinese-born Naisi Chen, who at 26 will be one of the youngest faces in Parliament alongside Green MP Chloe Swarbrick. Chen ran for the first time this year in the Botany electorate. She lost the seat to National’s Christopher Luxon, but at 38 on the list, will still be working in the Beehive.  

Read More: Chinese voters vote for policy

Naisi Chen2

Labour list MP Naisi Chen

Dr Ayesha Verall is also joining as a Labour list MP, whose mother was born in The Maldives, an island country in the Indian Ocean. According to the Otago Daily Times, Verrall spent some time in the country as a child. This year, the infectious disease physician became a key figure in the Covid-19 fight, pushing for better contact tracing early in the pandemic.

The New Zealand Parliament website records MPs who have self-identified as being of Asian ethnicity and on that list are a number of familiar faces returning to Parliament.

Among those MPs is National list MP Melissa Lee, born in South Korea. Following a career in journalism, she turned to politics in 2008 and entered Parliament as a list MP for National. In her maiden speech, she acknowledged the support she’d received from the Korean community as she stepped into the position of the first New Zealand MP of Korean heritage. 

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National MP Melissa Lee

Also returning as a list MP – but for Labour – is Marja Lubeck. Dutch-born and of Indonesian descent, 2020 will mark her second term in Parliament as a list MP.

For the Greens, Golriz Ghahraman is returning at number seven on the party list. When she first entered Parliament in 2017, she made history as New Zealand’s first elected refugee. She will be one of two MPs with refugee backgrounds this term, joined by Labour’s Ibrahim Omer – in 2003 Omer fled his home country of Eritrea and spent years in refugee camps before coming to New Zealand. 

A full breakdown of the new Parliament is yet to come and there are still an estimated 480,000 special votes to be counted, which may change some electorates with tight margins. For now, though, many are celebrating the diverse new voices that will be heard over the next three years.

Banner image Tom Ackroyd/Wikimedia Commons

  - Asia Media Centre