Frequently we hear that politicians are drawn from too narrow a range of backgrounds; and that this is a problem for Labor in particular due to its connections with the trade union movement; and in particular in the Senate, due to the influence of unions on decisions on Senate tickets by State Labor Party branches.
Let’s have a quick look – based on published bios on the Australian Parliament House website.
|Name||Professional background||Union background||Qualifications listed|
|Senator Catryna Bilyk||Medical admin, research; early childhood education||Yes: industrial officer, trainer: ASU|
|Senator Carol Brown||Party and political admin officer and adviser||Not indicated|
|Senator Joe Bullock||Trade union official||Yes: SDA|
|Senator Doug Cameron||Fitter, machinist||Yes: AMWU, ACTU|
|Senator Kim Carr||Teacher, ministerial and policy adviser||Not indicated||BA (hons); MA, Dip Ed|
|Senator Jacinta Collins||Social welfare, research, industrial officer w SDA ; policy consultant||Yes: SDA||BA BSocWk|
|Senator Stephen Conroy||Superannuation officer (TWU)||Yes: TWU||BEc|
|Senator Sam Dastyari||ALP positions||Not indicated||BA|
|Senator Alex Gallacher||Labourer, truck driver, airline ramp services operator||Yes: TWU|
|Senator Chris Ketter||Union research officer, organiser, official||SDA||BA, BComm|
|Senator Sue Lines||Teacher, community organiser, union official||Yes: United Voice||BEd|
|Senator Joe Ludwig||Barrister, industrial inspector and advocate||Yes: AWU||BA LLB|
|Senator Kate Lundy||Builders labourer; union organiser and official||CFMEU|
|Senator Gavin Marshall||Electrician; union official||Yes: ETU|
|Senator Anne McEwen||Clerical, admin; union organiser||Yes: ASU||BA|
|Senator Jan McLucas||Teacher; electorate officer||Not indicated||DipT|
|Senator Claire Moore||Public servant; union official||Yes: CPSU|
|Senator Deb O’Neill||High school teacher; university lecturer||Not indicated||BA, MA, Dip T, Grad Dip Lit Ed|
|Senator Nova Peris||Olympic athlete||Not indicated|
|Senator Helen Polley||Political adviser||Not indicated||Dip Business Admin|
|Senator Lisa Singh||Union organiser; political adviser; director Working Womens Centre; public service manager||Yes: AEU||BA (hons); Master Int Rel|
|Senator Glenn Sterle||Furniture removal, truck driver, owner operator, union organiser and official||Yes: TWU|
|Senator Anne Urquhart||Process worker; union organiser, official||Yes: AMWU|
|Senator Penny Wong||Industrial officer; policy adviser; barrister and solicitor; legal officer||Not specified APH but yes: CFMEU, LHMU||BA LLB|
So, Senators with trade union backgrounds include :
- a process worker;
- a fitter/machinist;
- two truck drivers (with two different practical careers after that);
- an electrician;
- a social worker;
- two public servants;
- a builders labourer;
- a teacher;
- two lawyers;
- a clerical worker; and
- someone who had worked in early childhood education and medical administration .
Only three Senators with trade union backgrounds listed their union role as their sole or primary occupation before entering Parliament; and of those, one – Senator Conroy – held a professional role as superannuation officer which has counterparts in other public and private sector organisations across Australian society.
Not a bad start on diverse backgrounds. (On other dimensions of diversity, current selection processes have given us 14 women out of 24; and some non-Anglo names including Bilyk, Dastyari; Singh; and Wong.)
None of this is to deny the value of having among our representatives people with qualifications enabling them to deal with a range of issues as they present themselves – yes I do mean lawyers, economists and public policy professionals. Just note that, not co-incidentally, Penny Wong is (and obviously deserves to be) Labor’s leader in the Senate.
Nor is any of this to deny the need , which Gough Whitlam saw, for the Labor party to regularly renew its structures to ensure it stays relevant and effective in modern Australia.
We’ll come back to talking about lawyers next time with the House of Representatives, as well as a look at people with higher level qualifications, and whether we have enough people with literacy in science (including in dealing with environmental crisis).
But those who have asked questions like, “could Ben Chifley get pre-selection today” might take a look at this list in looking for their answer.