Myth busting: we have too many MPs

The Herald on Sunday have used the current MMP Review to trot out the old argument that we have too many MPs. This was a line that Jordan Williams’ failed Vote for Change tried to use – claiming that MMP required 120 MPs to operate, and to reduce the number of MPs we would have to select a different. That particular statement is a blatant lie, and the Electoral Commission did not hesitate to correct them.

So the Herald on Sunday claim that Australia only has 150 MPs – “one for every 152,300 Ockers” in their words. By contrast, New Zealand has 121 MPs, or one for every 36,600 people. Why do we need “so many” MPs?

Except that’s not quite the case.

If we ignore local government – then you still can’t ignore that Australia’s federal government has a bicameral Parliament, with two houses. The lower house, the House of Representatives, has 150 MPs, but they are conveniently ignoring the Australian upper house, the Senate, with their 76 federal senators.

And then you also have the state and territorial governments. Many New Zealanders are blissfully ignorant of these, and often picture them as bloated local councils. But they’re not. They have a large remit over the everyday lives of Australians.

I’ve compiled this table which really shows how much representation the average Australian and New Zealander get…


Government Lower House Upper House Total
Federal 150 76 226
New South Wales 93 42 135
Victoria 88 40 128
Queensland 89 89
Western Australia 59 36 95
South Australia 47 22 69
Tasmania 25 15 40
Australian Capital Territory 17 17
Northern Territory 25 25

New Zealand

Federal 121 121

On these numbers Australia has a total of 825 elected representatives, or one for every 27,720 people (using the 2012 population estimate of 22 million).

Additionally, I just don’t think that Australia is a particularly good comparison for this metric. They have a state system which is very different to how we operate, and they have over five times the population. I’d be interested to hear of any more suitable comparisons that people have (I think a country like Ireland would be better). I’d also imagine that there are NGOs out there that do ratings of “quality” of Government – that’s probably where I’d start looking before diving into straight counts of representatives.

Update: I’ve just noticed David Farrar has run exactly the same numbers I have. Doh.

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