Australian democracy's Catch-22
New research from The Australia Institute shows that the number of constituents represented by each Federal MP has tripled since Federation and only 13% of Australians have ever spoken to their representative.
[Full report - see PDF below]
The report also shows that the increase in parliamentarians has not kept pace with Australia’s population, with representation per capita halving since the 1950s.
A national opinion poll released with the report, conducted by Research Now on behalf of The Australia Institute, asked Australians about their relationship with their local Member of Parliament.
Less than a third of respondents feel confident that they would be able to speak with their local MP if they were concerned about a current political issue.
- Only 13% of respondents have spoken to their local MP (in person or on the phone).
- Only 16% of respondents have written to their local MP.
- 61% of respondents do not know the name of their local MP.
“Representative democracy is built on the idea that politicians are accessible to their electorate and will take the views and values of their community to Parliament,” Executive Director of The Australia Institute, Ben Oquist said..
“Seven in ten Australians don’t feel confident that they could raise concerns with their local MP. That’s not surprising given that less than two in ten have ever spoken to him or her.
“The disconnect between members and their electorates is a vicious cycle, where low engagement leads to people valuing their representatives less.
Half (50%) of those surveyed say that the number of federal parliamentarians should be decreased and just 9% say that the number should be increased.
The number of Australians that each senator and local member must represent is at its highest point since Federation.
“In 1901, there were 34,500 Australians for every federal parliamentarian. In 1951 it was 46,900. Today, there are about 106,000 Australians per parliamentarian.
“It will take real leadership to break this cycle and admit that our politicians may be stretched too thinly.
“A functioning democracy is not expensive. The risk of the public losing confidence in our democracy and it becoming dysfunctional would be the most costly option,” Oquist said.