The Way In: Representation in the Australian Parliament

January 18, 2019

Our Parliament is elected to represent us, but many of us feel unrepresented by our members of Parliament. Public faith in our democratic institutions can be undermined by the sense that powerful interests have more traction than the public interest. The stereotype of MPs as wealthy, white, men with law degrees or union backgrounds carries with it the implication that the outcomes of parliamentary business benefit those with the same background.

But is there truth to the stereotype? This research paper asks whether there is an established ‘way in’ to Parliament, whether MPs overwhelmingly come from the same demographic backgrounds, schools, and career paths, and whether this might have implications for policy. It also tracks how these trends have developed over the last thirty years, and asks whether Parliament has become more representative in response to advocacy for quotas and other redistributions of power and influence.

This paper compiles information on every federal MP from the 1988 and 2018 Parliaments across four categories: demographic backgrounds, schooling, tertiary education, and career experience. It compares the percentages of MPs with specific backgrounds against the percentage of Australians with similar backgrounds, tracking how representative Parliament was in 1988 and how representative it became over the next thirty years.