The number of members of Parliament and senators has not kept up with Australia’s population growth. Parliamentarians represent three times as many people as their counterparts did in 1901.
The last substantial increase in parliamentary numbers is now over thirty years old, meaning that federal representatives have never been spread as thinly as they are now.
This lack of representation likely affects political engagement. Less than one in every five Australians has spoken with their local member, and the majority do not even know his or her name. Few feel confident that they could speak about their political concerns with their representative.
Incremental increases in the number of senators and, commensurately, in the number of members of the House of Representatives, could bring Australian representation back in line with what it was after Hawke’s 1984 reforms. This would give parliamentarians a smaller electorate to focus on and make it easier for voters to mobilise to influence their representatives.
However, the public do not want more politicians. In fact, as shown in opinion poll results in this paper, most Australians want fewer politicians. This is not surprising given the current political disengagement being reported by the public.
An increase in the number of parliamentarians would make it easier for them to engage with, and be engaged by, the community they are supposed to represent. This would in turn prove the value of parliamentarians, and improve public attitudes to politicians.