One third of Australia’s graduates come from STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) backgrounds.1 These students are equipped for employment across every public and private sector, beyond traditional scientific positions, and are crucial to our country’s economy and technological advances. Despite this, there has been a consistent underrepresentation of scientists in political parties and spaces – a failing that not only minimises the quality of the Labor Party, but hinders the intellectual diversity at the core of what a labour party ought to represent.
Only eleven current federal MPs and senators, of 226, have any kind of STEMM background.2 While Labor does have moderate scientific representation, with caucus members including Dr. Mike Freelander, a general practitioner, Emma McBride, a pharmacist, and Amanda Rishworth, a psychologist, it does not exceed any other political party. Instead, most our elected representatives come from backgrounds in law and business3. This trend continues into the membership of Young Labor, and further into Labor affiliated campus societies – where the stereotypical arts student fits comfortably into the world of student politics.
While it is not disputed that lawyers and businessmen provide value to our party, I do not think that this overcomes the intellectual diversity that should exist in a party of the labour movement. Unions have never been perfect. Under the banner of our movement, many were created to exclude types of workers in order to control the supply of labour.4 Fortunately, this has changed, and the ever-diversifying labour movement owes its current strength to the inclusion of women, racial minorities and diverse intellects. It is this diversification of the labour movement that the Labor Party must build on. For any notion that politics should be left to politicians is one at odds with the progressive labour movement.
It has been suggested that this existing disparity in scientific representation is because we, as scientists, do not see ourselves fit to be leaders or representatives.3 Perhaps because STEMM graduates generally do not study politics they assume that their participation within it would not be meaningful. Furthermore, there is a general divide between students who exaggerate the difficulty of STEMM degrees relative to their own. This can leave STEMM students feeling like what they are learning is only suited to their specific major, and not any kind of non-scientific political discourse. It is this perception that needs to change.
The reason this change must occur is that scientists are not only adequately trained to engage with politics, but provide advantages to our party over their legal and business-oriented counterparts.
What needs to remembered is that science is not simply a memorisation and regurgitation of facts. It is a way of thinking and approaching tasks. Scientific study teaches people to value outcomes and evidence over ideology. It involves working with peers to analyse a set of data, and design solutions to a given problem. It is about having a vision for what you want the world to look like and a creative drive to help achieve this progression. These things, as you may have noticed, are at the core of what both science and politics tries to achieve.
The ability to fully understand the science behind the increasingly technical scope of legislation – including artificial intelligence, cyber security and gene modification – should not be underestimated. A government with proper scientific representation in its caucus would more quickly be able to make the necessary reforms in these areas. The public also trusts STEMM workers more than any other occupation.5 With their reliance on truth and collaborative review, they could bring public trust back into politics during a future of political disillusion.
I’m not suggesting that all scientists should have progressive politics, or even that they need to be politically active. What I am saying is that your training in science does not mean you are any less capable at engaging with policies with the clarity demanded by political debate. Indeed, you have skills that could enhance politics beyond its current form.
There are ways to tackle this underrepresentation. The improvement of a Labor Science Network akin to the NSW Society of Labor Lawyers would encourage the participation of scientists in our party. Putting emphasis on intellectual diversity as a cornerstone of what our party believes in could shift consensus of what a politician should be.
Yet, one of the most effective places to influence the representation of our party is through Young Labor. Change can, and will, start with you. If you are a science student with an interest in politics, Young Labor is the perfect place for you to begin engaging with policies and politics in a space that will fully support your ideas.
As scientists, you are the ones that will be shaping our economy, building our cities and directing the future of our nation. I do strongly believe that politics is one of the best and most important ways you can achieve this.
For when our ideas are diverse, our party is strong.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (2014) Perspectives on Education and Training: Australian with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), 2010-11. [online] 4250.0.55.005
- Johnston, E. (2016) We need more scientists to take the leap into politics. The Sydney Morning Herald . [online] http://www.smh.com.au/comment/we-need-to-see-more-scientists-take-the-leap-into-politics-20161017-gs3u5z
- Lumb, M. (2013) The 43rd Parliament: traits and trends. The Parliamentary Library.
- Woods, S. (1998) Unions, People and Diversity: Building Solidarity Across a Diverse Membership. The Diversity Factor, 7(1), 38-45.
- Roy Morgan Research (2016) Image of Professions Survey 2016: Nurses still easily most highly regarded – followed by Doctors, Pharmacists & Engineers. [online] http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/6797-image-of-professions-2016-201605110031