I was initially unimpressed by the concerns expressed by members and their staff about the increasing pressure they felt in serving their constituents.

After all, my staff had coped very well with the current staff numbers for many years up to 2010, when I left the Parliament.

However, an examination of enrolment numbers has changed my mind, although I am not sure giving current members increased staff is the best solution.

When the current size of the Parliament was established in 1984 the average number of electors per member was 84,244. Today that number is 115,060. This constitutes an increase of more than one-third. This raises concerns for staff, but more importantly it must impact on the ability of members to provide the service their constituents require and deserve.

Electronic communications could be seen as making the task of providing services to constituents easier. However, it also makes it easier for constituents to raise issues with their MPs.

This is, on balance, a good thing, but it increases the workload on staff who must be feeling the pressure of the ever-increasing volume of constituency work.

Of course, in a rational world we would gradually increase the numbers in the House of Representatives without any need to change the Senate numbers. However, the Australian constitution's so-called nexus clause prevents us from doing this. Section 24 of the Australian constitution states the size of the House "shall be as nearly as practicable twice the number of senators."

An attempt was made in 1967 to change this by referendum. It had bipartisan support but was defeated by a rump of the parliament campaigning on the bizarre grounds it would increase the number of members of Parliament. Of course, the failure of the referendum has had the reverse effect; each time there is the need to change the composition of the House it has required a very large increase. In 1984 the House increased from 125 to 150 and the Senate from 64 to 76.

Therefore, if we are going to do something now it will need to be something big. The least we can do is increase the size of the Senate to 14 per state (a total of 84), which with the current territory Senate representation would mean 88 senators. Double the number of state senators would mean 168 House members.

With the current territory representation, that means 173 members approximately in the House. The exact number may vary by one or two up or down, depending on the statistical analysis and distribution of seats within the states.

Based on the population distribution between the states at the 2020 census the distribution of seats is likely to be something like this:

The territorial entitlement is likely to remain:

How much would all this cost? It would take more resources than I have available to put together a comprehensive costing. However, if we compare the cost with the cost of providing one extra staff member for every current member or senator, it should be comparable.

One extra staff member per MP and senator would mean 226 extra staff. The increase in the size of the Parliament would mean 35 extra members or senators with extra staff of approximately 140. Extra office costs etc should make the costs roughly comparable.

I am not raising this question to help MPs but to enable proper service to constituents and ease the pressure on hard-working electorate office staff.

This is one of the two primary obligations of members of the House of Representatives.

They have two jobs (unless they become ministers, in which case they gain a third), as legislators and as service-providers to their constituents. It is this latter function which tends to be ignored in much of the debate about adequacy of representation.

The other interesting question is: who benefits politically? Even though I am an unashamed lifelong political partisan I don't think this is the important question. However, it seems to me the National Party should benefit, because its declining rural base can be stretched more thinly across its existing area of support. The Greens may benefit, because smaller metropolitan seats may reduce the diluting impact of the suburbs on their inner-city base in some cities. The teal and rural independents may benefit, as they should be able to focus on a slightly smaller and more concentrated area. Between Labor and Liberal, it is impossible to say and unwise to speculate. The changing patterns of support in seats like Bennelong and Tangney make such forecasting meaningless over even the short-run.

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Attempting to determine the preferred size of the Parliament on the basis of who will benefit in the short-term is a recipe for failure.

Voting patterns and demographic trends will overwhelm any perceived short-term advantage. At a time when the safest conservative seats in the country are not held by the conservative parties and the most progressive are often held by someone other than Labor, we should acknowledge it would not only be wrong to try to determine the size of the Parliament in the interests of any perceived partisan advantage, it would almost certainly be counter-productive as well.

However, the interests of constituents in a time of increasing need for representation suggest it is time to begin a serious debate about the appropriate size of the Australian Parliament.

QOSHE - Now is the right time for a bigger Parliament in Australia - Bob Mcmullan
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Now is the right time for a bigger Parliament in Australia

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04.12.2022

I was initially unimpressed by the concerns expressed by members and their staff about the increasing pressure they felt in serving their constituents.

After all, my staff had coped very well with the current staff numbers for many years up to 2010, when I left the Parliament.

However, an examination of enrolment numbers has changed my mind, although I am not sure giving current members increased staff is the best solution.

When the current size of the Parliament was established in 1984 the average number of electors per member was 84,244. Today that number is 115,060. This constitutes an increase of more than one-third. This raises concerns for staff, but more importantly it must impact on the ability of members to provide the service their constituents require and deserve.

Electronic communications could be seen as making the task of providing services to constituents easier. However, it also makes it easier for constituents to raise issues with their MPs.

This is, on balance, a good thing, but it increases the workload on staff who must be feeling the pressure of the ever-increasing volume of constituency work.

Of course, in a rational world we would gradually increase the numbers in the House of Representatives without any need to change the Senate numbers. However, the Australian constitution's........

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