Political Representation – Do we have it right?

In Australia we have a system of government that is similar to most democracies found around the world. Based on the population density of each region, we distinguish electorates that are represented by an elected official who the electorate voted for.

This system of government appears to be a relatively fair system to use but I ask here, does this form of government represent the will of the people?

Firstly, any given electorate may constitute numerous ‘groups’ who have their own distinct views. For example, a single electorate may contain distinguishable groups such as inner city professionals, suburban families and voting students. Each group would tend to focus on particular areas of government and would vote accordingly.

However, our current system only gives the largest group representation on key policy points. Of course, any representative that wants to continue representing the electorate will need to balance the needs of their electorate but on highly salient and important areas for the electorate, the representative will need to try and vote based on the values of the largest group.

This could be considered fair but then, if those groups who are in a minority, are more evenly spread out across many electorates, their representation could be nil when in actuality they may represent a substantial portion of the Australian population.Let me give a simplified version of what I am describing.

Let us look at a government consisting of just four members. Let us say that there are five important policy areas that people are concerned about and which influence their voting preferences. The first area of concern is spread across all electorates but is not the most important issue in any electorate. The remaining areas of concern dominate each electorate but not other electorates. To solidify this example, we could hypothesise that all electorates are concerned about health care but this is the No.1 issue for only 40% of the population in each electorate. For one electorate the No.1 issue for the majority of the population (ie the remaining 60%) could be mining rights, in another electorate the No.1 issue might be CSG mining on agricultural land and so on.

The outcome of this scenario is that the largest concern of all electorates combined (health care) receives zero representation while smaller issues receive greater representation. In reality, the voters preferences and areas of concern is much more complex than this but this example shows that it is possible with the current system to have an important area or policy to be under represented.

Could a better system be devised? I will explore this consideration in future posts.

Cheers, Dale

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