Quite a few people have pointed me to this piece by Barry Cohen which produces the unsurprising conclusion that Labor’s MPs are drawn from a very narrow range of occupations: union officials, 29; teachers, 18; state MPs and ministerial staff, 16; public servants, 14; party officials, 8; lawyers, 8. Before discussion what’s wrong with this, it’s worth pointing out that the situation is not that different on the other side of the aisle. Replace union officials with employer group officials, teachers with farmers and public servants with doctors, and you’d account for the great majority of Coalition MPs and ministers.
Whereas people once went into politics after spending a fair bit of time doing a variety of different things, political office is now part of a small set of fairly well-defined career paths. What’s mroe disturbing to me is that, at least for people who reached the heights of ministerial office, politics was almost always the last stage in a career. Now aspirants to the ministry are setting themselves up with contacts, and obligation networks for the time when they can really make big money, as consultants, lobbyists, chairmen of boards and so on. We don’t have to imagine the effect on public policy – there are already some egregious examples out there.
The only way to fix this, in my view, would be to greatly expand membership of political parties, and the only way to do that would be to give the members a real say in determining policy. Since that’s not going to happen, I don’t see a solution for this problem.