The people rule @ your.gov.au
Topic 4: Our representatives – how representative are they?
Student handout: Profiling our representatives
What proportion of males and females are there in our parliaments?
What is the age range of our representatives?
What educational qualifications do our representatives have?
What occupational backgrounds do they have?
How representative are our politicians of the society at large?
What makes representation effective?
It is sometimes said that our representatives in parliament should 'mirror' the people. For example, groups such as women, cultural groups, age groups and Indigenous Australians should be represented in the parliaments in proportion to their numbers in the community.
Is there a case for giving Indigenous Australians separate representation? In the New Zealand House of Representatives, for example, there are four seats reserved for Maori representatives.
The Parliament @ Work database contains a range of data on our representatives including gender, age, educational qualifications and former occupations. This allows us to look at the extent to which they mirror the Australian population.
1. Profile of your representatives
In this activity you will use the Parliament @ Work data to write a profile of either:
- all your State or Territory representatives;
- all your Federal representatives.
Present your profile as a series of bar or pie charts or some other diagrammatic form.
Your profile should include:
- What are the numbers of males and females in the Lower House (and Upper House if applicable)?
- Is the gender balance different in different political parties? In different Houses?
Age of representatives (look at date of birth)
- What is the age range of representatives?
- How many are: under 30/from 30–40/40–50/50–60/over 60?
- Are there age differences between political parties? Between Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament (if applicable)?
- How many representatives have tertiary qualifications? Secondary school qualifications?
- Are there differences in qualifications between political parties?
- Would you consider your representatives to be well educated? Why or why not?
- Make a list of former occupations of MPs and classify them according to this list – for example: Education (lecturer, teacher), Legal (lawyer, barrister, solicitor) – and provide numbers. (Some parliamentarians have a number of former occupations.)
- Are there differences in types of former occupations between political parties? Are there occupations that are particular to one party or another (for example, grazier, trade union official)?
You can look at the place of birth or the personal profiles of MPs. It might not be possible to find information for all parliamentarians, but by using the 'wwwlinks' section of Parliament @ Work you may go to your State or Territory parliamentary website where there will be links to MPs' websites.)
- Does your parliament have a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds? Explain.
After you have completed your profile, discuss in your groups and answer the following questions.
- How representative of the Australian population are these parliamentary representatives? How effective do you think your State or Territory or Federal parliament might be in representing the views of women, young people, people with little formal education, Australians from a variety of cultural backgrounds, or people who work in semi-skilled or unskilled occupations?
- Do you think it is important that our parliamentary representatives should mirror the Australian population in terms of gender, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, age and occupation? If so, why? If not, why not? How can MPs find out about the needs of their local constituents in order to represent their interests in parliament?
2. What makes a good representative?
Write a list of the people who represent you and your family. This could be in areas such as the school's SRC, sporting groups, local council, State or Territory and Commonwealth government and include leaders such as the Prime Minister.
In groups write down a list of ten qualities you think a good representative should have (for example, honesty, effective communicator) and why you think these qualities are important.
Share your list with other groups in the class and come up with a class consensus of ten qualities.
3. Profile of a Member of Parliament
Using the Parliament @ Work database find out the name of your State or Territory or Federal local member and electorate. (The class may have a number of different local members.)
In your group, brainstorm a list of questions you could ask a State or Territory representative, to develop a comprehensive profile.
These might include:
- What is your background?
- What was your motivation to enter politics?
- Why did you join a political party?
- What issues are important to you?
- How do you find out about the needs of people in your electorate?
- What are the important issues affecting young people?
- How do people try to influence you?
- What kind of work do you do?
- Is it difficult representing a political party and the local electorate?
- Should there be more women and young people in parliament?
- What is your greatest achievement?
- If you could change one thing tomorrow, what would it be?
- What are the qualities of a good representative?
- Should our representatives 'mirror' the community?
In your groups finalise your questions. Copy the list of questions so that each member of your group has the final version.
Find out information for your profile from the Internet, your local electorate office, parliamentary websites, newspapers and/or a personal interview.
Present your profile to the rest of the class as a talk, poster or computer presentation.