Growing up in the Turnbull household there must have been something oddly satisfying about musical chairs. Maybe there remained an element of freedom in the prospect that the next song allowed you to change positions, change identity. Or maybe it was the rhythm of the music or the satisfaction of battling those closest to you for that one chair left. Maybe, just maybe, there is a nostalgic undertone to the era of parliamentary reshuffling.
Since the commencement of the 44th Parliament the House of Representatives, there has been ten reshuffles in the cabinet and the shadow cabinet. The Coalition government was responsible for seven of these shuffles—slightly fewer than the nine Labor cabinet reshuffles in the previous (43rd) parliament.
So you can be forgiven for finding it hard to keep track of the front bench—it’s even harder to pin down how well it represents Australians.
UniPollWatch took a look at the current front bench—the ministry and shadow ministry combined—and found that it’s even less representative of Australia than the wider parliament.
Only 21% of the front bench are female—compared to the 26% rate of female representation in parliament overall.
Regional Australia is also underrepresented in cabinet and shadow cabinet. Rural and provincial seats account for 42% of the House of Representatives but only 34% of the front bench.
This is despite strong performance from regional and provincial members, who advocated more for their electorates than metropolitan MPs. Regional/provincial MPs, on average, made 42.27 local issues speeches (constituency statements and statements by members), compared with the metropolitan MPs’ mean of 37.20 speeches. Under-representation of regional and rural communities on the front bench was also reflected in the number of Ministerial statements made by these MPs (a mean of 0.62, less than half the 1.44 mean of metropolitan MPs).
State representation on the front bench is proportionate to the percentage of seats in parliament but there are several states and territories not currently represented on the front bench: Australian Capital Territory, Northern Territory and Tasmania.
Those serving on the current front bench had a mean of 4.24 terms in government (compared with a mean of 3.20 on the back bench).
They were absent more frequently (likely due to their ministerial roles), gave more bills speeches (a mean of 56, compared with the backbench mean of 6), and were substantially less vocal on electorate issues (20 speeches, compared with the backbench mean of 46).
However, front and back-benchers were equally likely to speak on matters of public importance, and spoke up roughly the same number of times overall.