Migrant Politicians

01 March, 2009

The House of Representatives, The Australian Parliament House, Canberra.
The House of Representatives, The Australian Parliament House, Canberra.
Source: AUSPIC

Question: Are there any Australian politicians who were born overseas?

Answer: Yes, there certainly are.

The Commonwealth of Australia is organised under a complex system of government, where power is administered at three levels: local, state and federal. Generally speaking, there are few limits on who can be a politician in Australia, since to be so only requires that a person is elected by a local constituency. It is certainly possible for Australian political representatives to be first-generation migrants to this country, and a number of Australian politicians were born overseas.

At a federal level, Australia’s parliament is divided into two houses – the House of Representatives and the Senate (also known as the Lower and Upper houses, respectively). Of the 150 currently-sitting members of the House of Representatives, nineteen were born in countries outside Australia: in Fiji, France, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, South Africa and the UK. These migrant-politicians represent a broad spectrum of political viewpoints, and hold offices in every state other than Tasmania. As for the Senate, eleven of its 46 members were born outside Australia: in Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand and the UK. Julia Gillard, the Australian deputy Prime Minister, was born in Wales. Her family migrated to Australia in 1966 under the Ten Pound Pom scheme when she was five.

The Victorian state parliament is also divided into two houses – the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council. The Assembly has 88 members, 11 of whom were born outside Australia. As for the Legislative Council, a quarter of its sitting members were born overseas! Victorian state politicians come from a wide range of countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Ireland, Lebanon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, the UK and Uruguay. Joe Helper, the Victorian Minister for Agriculture and Small Business, was born in Germany in 1959. He and his family moved to Melbourne in 1971.

It’s impossible to go into detail about the vast number of politicians in Australia’s 650 local councils here, although it should be noted that the longest-serving mayor of the city of Melbourne was John So, born in Hong Kong.

In a nation whose history is defined by migration it is not surprising that so many politicians have come from other countries. Many more Australian politicians have parents who were born overseas or have close family connections with nations outside Australia.

It’s interesting to note that Australia differs quite radically from nations like the United States where the head-of-state must be native-born. In fact, Australia’s Head of State (Queen Elizabeth II) was neither born in this country, nor lives here now!

Comments (3)

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elaine 13 November, 2010 16:24
The Prime Minister and all State Premiers should be native-born Australians.
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Delbert Axelrod 18 July, 2011 20:18
Why not go the whole hog and say that the PM and state Premiers should all be indigenous citizens.
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Karen 8 January, 2014 14:44
Australia is a melting pot, it stands to reason our parliments should represent this. I just wish there were less old white men :(
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