The Parliamentary Responsiveness of Australian Federal MPs to their Ethnic Constituents


Research Paper 8 1996-97

Gianni Zappalà
1996 Australian Parliamentary Fellow, Politics and Public Administration Group

Contents

Major Issues Summary

Introduction

Studies of Political Representation in Australia

The Influence of Ethnicity on Representational Behaviour

The influence of the ethnicity of the electorate

The influence of the ethnicity of the representative

Method and Data Source

The Findings: the Ethnic Electorate Effect?

Across group differences

Within group differences

Discussion

The marginality hypothesis

The party effect

The ethnic MP effect

The type of ethnic issues

Conclusion

References

Endnotes

Appendix 1: Federal electorates with at least 15 per cent of population born in NESCs

Major Issues Summary

Discussion of political representation has been dominated by the well known mandate/independence dichotomy, concerned with the question of how should elected representatives act? Should they be free to do and act in the manner they think best serves the national interest (the trustee), or should they rather act as an agent for their constituents and behave and vote according to their constituents' views? (the delegate). Studies of Australian representatives have generally found that MPs face conflicting pressures from the rather unholy trinity of their constituents, their party and their conscience. Such a framework has tended to ignore the possible role of ethnicity on representational behaviour. Another more appropriate response to understanding political representation has been to see the process as a complex whole and one which should focus on the degree of responsiveness a representative may display towards their constituents on a range of matters:

i) service responsiveness: the situation where an MP attempts to gain advantages for individual constituents through case work;

ii) allocation responsiveness: the situation where an MP attempts to gain advantages for groups in the electorate;

iii) policy responsiveness: the degree to which a representative takes into account constituent views when making policy or voting on bills in the national Parliament;

iv) symbolic responsiveness: defined as a 'relationship built on trust and confidence expressed in the support that the represented give to the representative and to which he (sic) responds by symbolic, significant gestures';

v) parliamentary responsiveness: the responsiveness of MPs (with respect to all of the above matters) to particular sub-constituencies of their electorate in the official arena of representation, the Parliament.

This study examines the parliamentary responsiveness of Australian MPs with specific reference to their ethnic sub-constituencies. Research suggests that constituent trust and confidence in their elected representatives is influenced by MPs' Parliamentary behaviour.

Ethnicity has a twofold influence on the representational behaviour of elected representatives: the ethnicity of the electorate and the ethnicity of the elected representative. Both factors have been ignored in studies of Australian representational behaviour. This neglect is particularly detrimental when it is considered that 48 of the 148 Federal electorates (just under one third) have at least 15 per cent of their population born in a non-English speaking country (NESC). At least 20 Federal electorates have one-quarter or more of their electors born in NESCs (see Appendix 1). The neglect of the ethnicity of the electorate's role on representational behaviour may be due to the fact that academic opinion continues to be divided over the electoral significance of the ethnic vote. Yet politicians often behave as if an ethnic vote does exist. This raises the question of whether MPs from ethnic electorates (at least 15 per cent born in NESCs) behave in ways which are different to MPs from non-ethnic electorates.

The second way in which ethnicity may influence representational behaviour is if the MP is from an ethnic background. The assumption is that MPs from ethnic backgrounds will be more responsive and empathetic to the wishes of constituents from ethnic backgrounds than MPs who are not. In contrast to studies of the role of gender in representation, however, the small number of MPs from non-English speaking background (NESB) in Federal Parliament has precluded tests of this assumption with respect to ethnicity. Although there may be broader system-wide reasons to have a legislature which better reflects Australia's ethnic diversity, the jury is still out on whether MPs from ethnic backgrounds better represent ethnic constituents.

This paper presents and discusses the results of a content analysis of the parliamentary interventions of MPs from twelve ethnic electorates and ten non-ethnic electorates between 1983 and 1996. On the basis of this analysis, two indexes were constructed, the ethnic reference ratio and the ethnic distance ratio in order to compare the responsiveness of MPs to their ethnic constituents. The findings suggest that:


  • The ethnicity of the electorate does have an influence on ethnic responsiveness in absolute terms but less so in relative terms. In other words, MPs from ethnic electorates generally make more ethnic related interventions than MPs from non-ethnic electorates, but not as much as the proportion of ethnic constituents in these electorates would suggest they should make.
  • The ethnicity of the electorate also influences the type of ethnic issues MPs make in Parliament, with those from ethnic seats more likely to make constituency related issues.
  • Within the non-ethnic electorates, a somewhat surprising result is the strong performance of the National Party, with two of the three most responsive (non-ethnic) electorates being held by representatives from the National Party. The result for the electorate of Riverina, for example, lends support to the idea that a minority group in a single member electorate is likely to have a bigger influence on the elected representative when they are a significant force in the electorate.
  • The marginality of the seat, especially in ethnic electorates, rather than the political party to which the representative belongs, would appear to have a bigger influence on the degree and type of responsiveness which MPs displayed towards their ethnic constituents.
  • Finally, the findings support the assumption, albeit tentatively, that the ethnicity of the MP does have an influence on both the degree and type of ethnic responsiveness. The findings suggest that such MPs are taking on representational roles which extend beyond the geographical confines of their immediate electorates. They become (willingly or not) national representatives and symbols for Australians of ethnic background due to the small number of MPs from NESB in the Federal Parliament.

Introduction

Studies of political representation in Australia have been more notable by their absence with there being a twenty year gap between the first such study (Emy 1974) and more recent work (Studlar and McAllister 1994, 1996). The rise in interest can be traced to two main factors. First, the emergence of issue movements and minor parties has led to a questioning of traditional interpretations of Australia's system-wide processes of representation (Marsh and Uhr 1995). Second, and relatedly, the increasing political mobilisation of these issue movements and interest groups has led to a focus on the representation of previously excluded groups and interests from Australian political life, such as women (Sawer and Simms 1984; McAllister and Studlar 1992; Sawer and Zetlin 1996) and indigenous peoples (Bennett 1989; Brennan 1995). The role of ethnicity in discussions of representation in Australian politics, however, is still largely ignored.(1) Although we now may have a better understanding of the voting behaviour and party identification of immigrants (McAllister 1992, 142-5; McAllister and Makkai 1991), we know little about how the ethnic composition of many electorates interacts with Australia's system of political representation.

This paper examines two key issues: i) does the ethnicity of the electorate influence the behaviour of MPs at the Parliamentary level; ii) what other factors influence the degree of parliamentary responsiveness on the part of MPs to their ethnic constituents. The issues were explored by constructing an ethnic reference ratio and an ethnic distance ratio based on a content analysis of the parliamentary interventions of MPs between 1983 and 1996 from twenty-two Federal electorates. This is by no means a representative sample, comprising only 15 per cent of all Federal electorates. Nevertheless, given the paucity of research in ethnic representation in Australia, such an analysis provides a useful and original contribution to furthering the understanding of the relationship between ethnicity and political representation in Australia. The remainder of the paper briefly reviews the concept of representation, examines the twofold manner in which ethnicity may influence representation in Australia, discusses the data and method used in further detail and presents the main findings and their implications for future research.(2)

Studies of Political Representation in Australia

Discussion of political representation has been dominated by the well known mandate/independence dichotomy (Pitkin 1972, 144-67). In brief, this dichotomy is concerned with the question of how should elected representatives act? Should they be free to do and act in the manner they think best serves the national interest (the trustee), or should they rather act as an agent for their constituents and behave and vote according to their constituents' views? (the delegate). This dichotomy has been criticised for two main reasons. First, because it is argued to be a false distinction in practice. The proper role of the representative is generally believed to fall somewhere between these two poles (Pennock 1979, 325).

Responses to this problem have been to add a new category, such as 'politico', argued to be a representative who acts in both ways (Wahlke et al 1962), or to accept that they are ideal types and therefore aim to quantify the finer differences between the two extremes (Converse and Pierce 1986, 497-99). Another response has been to recognise that in many parliamentary systems elected representatives often act and vote according to party discipline. The responsible party model, as it is known, is still a variant of the mandate or delegate thesis. In this case, the parties put forward alternative platforms to the electorate who then instruct by electing one party over another (Converse and Pierce 1986, 698-706). Australia is argued to conform most closely with the responsible party government model of representation (Studlar and McAllister 1996, 73), nevertheless, the dichotomy between pressures from the electorate as against pressures from party is still seen as one of degree rather than an either or choice (Marsh 1995, 119-21).

The second criticism regards the empirical component of studies within this framework. Some argue, for example, that conceiving of representation within this framework gives a bias to the delegate aspect of representation (Schwartz 1988, 26). More importantly, others point to the paradox that an elected representative may be avowedly trustee in belief, but still faithfully represent his or her electorate's opinions because they are a native of the area and have therefore internalised some of their outlook (Converse and Pierce 1986, 502). There are also problems concerning how an elected representative perceives their electorate sentiment on a particular issue, or which sub-constituency within an electorate a representative is aiming to please (Fenno 1978; Maddox 1996, 404-5).

In spite of these problems, Australian studies of representation have been firmly rooted in the representational roles paradigm (Emy 1974, 456-99). More recent work, based on surveys of candidates and incumbent MPs, while although addressing aspects of service and policy responsiveness, remains within the mandate/independence mould. Studlar and McAllister (1994), for instance, showed that candidates identified with three types of representational roles: locals, who focus on addressing constituency based concerns and interests; partisans, who see their role in party political terms; and legislators, who emphasise the parliamentary and policy role of an elected representative.(3) Similarly, the same authors (1996) found that Australian MPs conformed to three main distinctions in terms of representational roles, what they termed the free mandate, responsible party and the imperative mandate. The terms may be different but the substance is the same, MPs face conflicting pressures from the rather unholy trinity of their constituents, their party and their conscience. These latter studies have added to our knowledge with respect to several areas, for instance, the relative incidence of each type of role according to representatives' party affiliation and personal characteristics, whether representational role beliefs influence behaviour, and the motivations for particular behavioural patterns. The issue of ethnicity (of either the elected representative or of the electorate), however, has been ignored.

A more adequate response has been to see the process of representation as a complex whole and one which should focus on the degree of responsiveness a representative may display towards their constituents on a range of matters (Eulau and Karps 1977). One can specify four main types of representational responsiveness (Jewell 1983, 304):

i) service responsiveness: the situation where an MP attempts to gain advantages for individual constituents through case work;

ii) allocation responsiveness: the situation where an MP attempts to gain advantages for groups in the electorate;

iii) policy responsiveness: the degree to which a representative takes into account constituent views when making policy or voting on bills in the national Parliament;

iv) symbolic responsiveness: defined as a 'relationship built on trust and confidence expressed in the support that the represented give to the representative and to which he (sic) responds by symbolic, significant gestures'.

Such a framework facilitates the introduction of ethnicity as a possible and important influence on the representational process. For instance, service and allocation responsiveness cannot be adequately understood in some Australian electorates without taking the role of ethnic community organisations into account (Zappal 1997). Similarly, symbolic responsiveness by MPs from ethnic electorates may be achieved in either or both of what Norton and Wood (1993, 24) have termed the two faces of representation: the local constituency face and the official parliamentary face. This study can be seen as an examination of the parliamentary responsiveness of MPs in the official arena of representation with specific reference to their ethnic sub-constituency. In a sense, it examines all four types of representational responsiveness with respect to ethnic constituents as measured by the interventions of MPs in Parliament.

The Influence of Ethnicity on Representational Behaviour

A useful point of departure for examining the issue of ethnic responsiveness is the simple typology of ethnic representatives in Australia put forward by Jupp and colleagues (1989, 32). They argued that ethnic representatives in Australia may be divided into four main categories:


  • those who rely on a base of NESB voters to a major extent;
  • those who are sensitive and responsive to NESB voters although not NESB themselves;
  • those who are of NESB but do not have a distinctively NESB electorate;
  • those who are of NESB but have been chosen as part of a party ticket for a multi-member electorate (i.e. the Senate).

The typology, albeit lacking empirical verification, suggests that ethnicity influences representation in two distinct ways. First, that the attitudes and behaviour of elected representatives are influenced by the ethnicity of their electorate (categories 1 and 2). Second, that the attitudes and behaviour of elected representatives of ethnic background may differ from that of other representatives (categories 3 and 4). This paper is primarily concerned with the first of these influences. Nevertheless, it also provides evidence which casts light on the second dimension of this typology.

The influence of the ethnicity of the electorate

The first manner in which the typology outlined above suggested that ethnicity influenced representational behaviour was through the ethnicity of the electorate. This is part of what the wider literature on representation terms the composition of the electorate effect. This includes such aspects as the homogeneity or heterogeneity of the electorate, its socio-economic composition, whether it is rural or urban, and its ethnic and racial makeup (Pennock 1979; Fenno 1978; Jewell 1982, 1983). Although many Australian studies have argued that the composition of the electorate with respect to ethnicity is an important variable influencing voting behaviour (McAllister 1992, 145), its impact on a representative's attitudes and behaviour has not been fully explored. The quantitative and qualitative aspects of ethnic diversity in Australia are well known and require little elaboration.(4) Suffice to note that such diversity has important implications when it is translated to Australia's electoral system of single-member geographical constituencies. For instance, Appendix 1 suggests that 48 of the 148 Federal electorates (just under one third) have at least 15 per cent of their population born in a non-English speaking country (NESC).(5) At least 20 Federal electorates have one-quarter or more of their electors born in NESCs. As Jupp (1988, 173) has stated:

Immigrants of NESB in Australia should be and are of interest to politicians because of their numbers in particular electorates...such an element of the electorate is too large, vocal and well organised to be ignored by parties hoping to govern.

Why has the ethnicity of electorates been ignored in studies of representation? One possible reason is that political scientists are generally more interested in marginal seats, and most marginal electorates in Australia, with one or two key exceptions, also have a low proportion of people from NESB (Jupp 1996, 9). A more important reason concerns the continuing debate over the so-called 'ethnic vote'. The main approach to voting behaviour in Australia has been the model that class or occupation, of either individuals or of geographical electorates, is the main determining factor in explaining voter choice (McAllister 1992, 152-68). This school of thought still has a strong following, despite studies which suggest that ethnicity may also be important. Although most commentators agree that there is no such thing as an ethnic vote in the sense that particular blocs of votes are directed towards particular candidates or parties along ethnic lines, several studies have nevertheless demonstrated that at particular points in time, the manner in which people of NESB voted may have determined the outcome of a Federal election (McAllister 1988).

Those that argue against the existence of an ethnic vote base this view on the fact that 'ethnic' electorates also tend to be traditional working-class areas. That is, the fact that many ethnic Australians vote for the ALP is not because they are ethnic or that they feel the ALP better represents ethnic interests, but because their socio-economic position makes them natural Labor voters (Economou 1994, 1995). Furthermore, any possible influence that ethnicity might have on voting behaviour is marginal to the outcome of Federal elections because of the lack of transfer of ethnic seats between the major parties. That is, with minor exceptions, ethnic seats are not influential in leading to a change of government at the polls (Economou 1994).

Several other studies, however, have clearly shown that ethnicity does have an effect over and above class (Forrest 1988; Jupp et al 1989, 15; McAllister 1992, 142-6). They have found that party identification varies with ethnic background, that voters from Southern European, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern origin are markedly pro-Labor, holding class constant, while voters from Northern Europe and English speaking countries are more conservative. Despite these findings, opinion continues to be divided over the electoral significance of the ethnic vote and its very existence, and this may have contributed to the reticence of examining the influence of ethnicity on representational activity.

The literature also suggests that two other 'electorate' variables may influence the attitudes and behaviour of elected representatives apart from the composition of the electorate. First, is what is known as the marginality of seat hypothesis (Converse and Pierce 1986, 743). In brief, the argument is that a representative who comes from a safe seat might feel more free to depart from the direct wishes of their constituents than would a representative from a marginal seat. Empirical tests of this hypothesis, however, have produced mixed results. A study of representation in France found the opposite to be the case (Converse and Pierce 1986, 745-59),(6) while a British study found that members from safe seats had a greater tendency to neglect their constituencies (Crewe 1985, 48). A recent study of Australia found that MPs representing marginal electorates are unlikely to provide any more constituency service (apart from local party work) compared to MPs representing safe seats (Studlar and McAllister 1996, 81). One observation of interest is the fact that the highly ethnic electorates in Appendix 1 also tend to be safe Labor seats. This is given further support by the results of the March 1996 election where only two of the top twenty ethnic electorates changed hands, Lowe, which went from Labor to Liberal, and Wills, which went back to Labor after a brief period of being held by an Independent.

The final variable found to influence representatives' attitudes and behaviour relates to the type of policy issue in question. Studies in the US and France have found that on some issues (e.g. civil-rights, religion), political representatives are more concerned to mirror the opinions of their constituents (Converse and Pierce 1986, 727-38). The issues we would expect to be of most relevance in Australia with respect to ethnicity are multiculturalism and immigration. There seems to be something of a paradox, however, regarding the likely impact of these issues on representatives' attitudes and behaviour. Many commentators have argued that the main reason why immigrant groups increasingly switched their support to the Labor Party from the mid-1970s onwards was due to that party's position on multiculturalism (Forrest 1988; Foster and Stockley 1988; McAllister and Makkai 1991). Whether this was due to Labor politicians' actual beliefs or a cruder concern to capture the 'ethnic vote' is to a large extent immaterial. What is important is that it appears that issues such as multiculturalism were perceived by at least some elected representatives to be important enough to warrant that they show a greater degree of policy congruence with their ethnic constituents.(7) This is rational behaviour given that several studies have shown that voters from a NESB are more sensitive to multicultural issues (Jupp 1988, 175; Goot 1993).(8) In contrast to these earlier findings, however, McAllister (1993a, 71) concluded that attitudes towards multiculturalism have comparatively weak links to party political behaviour because the major political parties have not placed multiculturalism and ethnic issues on their political agendas. Furthermore, he argues that constituents' opinions on immigration play less of a role in determining their respective candidate's positions on immigration, relative to party affiliation and personal characteristics (McAllister 1993b, 175).

In conclusion, is there an ethnic electorate effect with respect to representation? Political scientists have in the past hinted at the importance of ethnicity of certain electorates with respect to voting behaviour. Although even this finding remains contested, it is at least clear that 'variables of ethnicity and gender do complicate a class analysis' (Bottomley 1992, 37). It would be surprising if this were the case for voting behaviour and not for the attitudes and behaviour of MPs from ethnic electorates. Another thing is certain, we know that politicians themselves act as if an ethnic vote does exist, in fact Jupp (1988, 171) has argued that they act as 'though there were an Italian or Arabic vote'. Such behaviour would clearly be irrational if ethnicity played no role. Yet why do 'rational' academics believe that politicians are any less 'rational' than themselves? Do MPs from ethnic electorates behave in ways which are different to MPs from non-ethnic electorates? The simple answer is that we do not know. The data presented below enable some observations to be made with respect to MPs' parliamentary behaviour. Before we move onto these findings, the next section expands upon the second manner in which ethnicity may influence representation.

The influence of the ethnicity of the representative

Representational behaviour may also be influenced by the individual characteristics of the representative, including ethnicity. Such characteristics can be divided between acquired and inherent traits. The former include variables such as age, education, parliamentary experience, party affiliation and so on. Most studies confirm, for instance, that representatives who are well educated, have more legislative experience and come from safe seats are more likely to adopt 'trustee' type attitudes and behaviour in their representational roles (Jewell 1983, 311). The latter include traits such as ethnicity. The assumption here is that an elected representative who is also from a particular group, in this context, from an ethnic background, would be more responsive and empathetic to the wishes of constituents from ethnic backgrounds than a representative who is not (Birch 1971, 126). In contrast to acquired traits, it is more difficult to test whether the inherent traits of representatives makes a difference to their attitudes and behaviour (Birch 1971, 126). Nevertheless, much effort has gone into testing whether female representatives, for instance, have different attitudes and behaviour to their male counterparts (see references in McAllister and Studlar 1992). Suggestive of the dominance of the responsible party model of representation in Australia, this same study found that:

women political candidates in Australia represent first their particular parties, secondarily the voters in their constituencies, and least of the three their gender (p.402).

This finding supports that school of thought which suggests that inherent characteristics do not matter. That:

...a representative is not representative of those whom he (sic) represents does not prevent him from representing them well, and that a representative is representative of those whom he represents does not guarantee that he will represent them well. There is no necessity for spaghettis to rejoice when linguines are elected (Grofman 1982, 99).

In contrast, an implicit assumption in most discussions of ethnic representation in Australia is that a person from a particular group is better able to represent members from that same group (Jupp 1989). This explains the dominance of the 'mirror representation' approach to questions of ethnic representation in public policy (Office of Multicultural Affairs 1989, 1991, 1996; National Multicultural Advisory Council 1995). The idea behind mirror or microcosmic representation is that any representative body should reflect the different groups in society to more or less the same proportion that those groups exist in the wider population.(9) It is in this sense that many commentators (both popular and academic) argue that the political system in Australia is 'unrepresentative' with respect to ethnicity. As one leading exponent of this view in Australia has argued:

...Parliamentary politics is completely dominated by those born and bred in Australia, usually of British or Australian parenthood, and, therefore, not 'representative' of a large part of the electorate (Jupp 1988, 162).

Why is microcosmic representation considered to be important?(10) First, as was mentioned above, supporters of mirror representation assume that an elected representative who is also from a particular group in society will be more responsive and empathetic to the wishes of constituents from that same group than a representative who is not. To slightly twist the earlier metaphor, supporters argue that spaghetti should be happy if linguini are elected because they are both pasta and will therefore be better able to understand and represent the issues of concern to pasta. In contrast to studies of the role of gender in representation, however, the small number of MPs from NESB in Federal Parliament has precluded tests of this assumption with respect to ethnicity. A second and perhaps more important reason in favour of mirror representation regards the legitimacy of the political system. The probability that there will be a legitimacy crisis in the political system is seen to be more likely in an era where global population movements have made ethnic diversity in Western democracies the norm rather than the exception (Rothschild 1981). As Kymlicka (1995, 150) has argued:

Citizens who do not see themselves reflected in the legislature may become alienated from the political process and question its legitimacy. If not the only route to representation, legislative representation is a uniquely important one, and the desire to be adequately represented in it must be taken seriously.

In conclusion, although there may be broader system-wide reasons to have a legislature which better reflects Australia's ethnic diversity, the jury is still out on whether MPs from ethnic backgrounds better represent ethnic constituents. This is implicit in the second category of Jupp et al's (1989) ethnic representative typology, namely, one who is sensitive and responsive to NESB voters although not from a NESB herself. Although the difficulty of testing the assumptions behind mirror representation have led some to argue that the issue will remain confined to the realms of philosophical debate (Birch 1971, 126; Wolgast 1991), the data explored below sheds some light, albeit tentative, on this debate.

Method and Data Source

The four types of representational responsiveness that were outlined earlier are likely to require different methods to examine them. For instance, the dominant mode of studying representation has been through structured questionnaires of elected representatives. This method has in many ways determined what issues political scientists have focused on. If one asks a set of closed-ended questions which conform to previous typologies of delegate, trustee and partisan, one is likely to receive confirmation of such ideal types. Studying policy responsiveness also requires a knowledge of constituent as well as their respective representative's attitudes to a similar range of issues. In contrast, studying representational 'home style' or service and allocation responsiveness is best done through more qualitative techniques, from semi-structured interviews to ethnographic case studies (Fenno 1978; Jewell 1982; Zappal 1997).

Symbolic responsiveness could be examined in several ways. First, by observing the behaviour of MPs in their constituencies (the local face of representation). It has been argued elsewhere that representational activity (ethnic and otherwise) at this level has been largely ignored in Australian political science (Zappal 1997). Symbolic responsiveness by MPs at the constituency level with respect to ethnic communities, for instance, is demonstrated by such things as being present at their community functions, weddings or national days. Such actions are not simply variants of 'baby kissing' activity, but play an important role in building up support amongst the ethnic sub-constituency of the electorate. Such actions show the ethnic communities in the electorate that they are seen as a legitimate part of the Australian polity and society (Zappal 1997).

Another way of examining the responsiveness of MPs' with respect to their ethnic constituents is to observe MPs' behaviour and interventions in the Parliament. Recent research suggests that the official face of representation continues to play an important role and link in how constituents view their MPs' representational performance (Marsh 1995, 38-9; 1996). Some MPs, for instance, distribute copies of their Hansard interventions to constituents to illustrate that they have raised issues which reflect their needs and concerns, especially as regards ethnic communities (Zappal 1997). A recent example of the importance of Parliamentary behaviour on public opinion towards ethnic related issues was the dramatic decrease in support for the Independent MP for the electorate of Oxley after a bi-partisan motion condemning her views on immigration and multiculturalism was passed in Parliament.(11) In brief, constituent trust and confidence in their elected representatives is influenced by their Parliamentary behaviour. Particularly in the case of conspicuously ethnic electorates parliamentary interventions which may praise the contributions made by immigrants, or raise issues of concern to ethnic communities, is an important type of what has been termed parliamentary responsiveness.

In order to examine parliamentary responsiveness on ethnic constituents the parliamentary interventions of MPs representing 22 Federal electorates were analysed for the period 1983 to 1996.(12) The electorates were chosen in order to have two roughly equal groups of 'ethnic' and 'non-ethnic' electorates. It was thought to be more valuable for the nature of the exercise to restrict the choice of electorates to those where the MP was not a Minister, Shadow Minister or Speaker of the House, as research has shown that they are much less likely to spend time in constituency related activities (Studlar and McAllister 1996, 81). Furthermore, their parliamentary interventions are more likely to be concerned with their portfolio policies.

Table 1: Characteristics of the ethnic electorates in the study



  Electorate     % born     Ethnicity      State        Party        2PP in    
                 in NESC       rank                                  1993(a)   


Fowler            44.5          1           NSW          ALP          72.0    
Grayndler         39.0          2           NSW          ALP          72.8    
Prospect          37.8          4           NSW          ALP          69.0    
Reid              34.2          8           NSW          ALP          68.8    
Lowe              31.0          11          NSW        ALP/Lib        55.0    
Calwell           29.3          16        Victoria       ALP          68.4    
Bruce             28.7          17        Victoria     Liberal        55.1    
Menzies           23.0          20        Victoria     Liberal        59.2    
Wentworth         22.8          21          NSW        Liberal        55.5    
Chisholm          22.2          22        Victoria     Liberal        52.9    
Greenway          21.3          24          NSW          ALP          63.4  

 

(a) Shows the two-party preferred vote in the 1993 Federal election.

Source: as for Appendix 1.

This criteria made the task of ensuring a sufficient number of highly 'ethnic' electorates problematic as most of the previous government's Cabinet (including the Prime Ministers) in the period studied were from such electorates. This also made ensuring a balance between party representation difficult as most highly ethnic electorates are safe Labor seats. A random selection from the 48 'ethnic' electorates in Appendix 1 was therefore not appropriate. Ethnic electorates were instead chosen in rank order of ethnicity with the proviso that the incumbent/s was not or had not been a Minister. In some cases this meant restricting the content analysis of some electorates to particular years within the thirteen year period. Overall, twelve 'ethnic' electorates were examined, the lowest in terms of ethnicity being Chifley. Eight were from NSW and four from Victoria. Seven were held by the Labor party for the whole period studied, four predominantly by the Liberal party, and one evenly by both parties. The 'ethnic electorates' which formed part of the study are shown in table 1.

In contrast, the non-ethnic electorates were chosen randomly from two separate categories: non-ethnic urban and rural electorates.(13) The one exception was the deliberate inclusion of the electorate of Bowman to see the effect of having an ethnic MP in a non-ethnic electorate. Overall, ten non-ethnic electorates were included in the analysis. As can be seen in table 2 these electorates had a better spread across state, party and urban/rural lines. Two electorates came from each mainland state, while three were predominantly held by the ALP, three by the Liberal Party, two by the Nationals and two were evenly mixed between the ALP and Liberal parties. Similarly, five of the ten electorates were rural while five were urban or outer metropolitan.

Table 2: Characteristics of the non-ethnic electorates in the study



  Electorate     % born in        State       Urban/rural       Party        2PP in 1993  
                    NESC 

                                                                
Bendigo             2.7          Victoria        Rural         ALP/Lib          50.1      
Dawson              4.5           Q'land         Rural         National         53.8      
Wakefield           4.9             SA           Rural         Liberal          67.0      
Riverina            4.9            NSW           Rural         National         62.9      
Bowman              6.0           Q'land         Urban           ALP            57.4      
Moore               9.7             WA           Urban         ALP/Lib          58.7      
Boothby             10.0            SA           Urban         Liberal          57.8      
Canning             10.2            WA           Urban           ALP            50.2      
Burke               10.5         Victoria        Rural           ALP            60.0      
Berowra             13.9           NSW           Urban         Liberal          62.2 

Source: as for Appendix 1.

The analysis followed five main procedures:

1. Using the on-line Historical Hansard records contained in the Parliamentary Data Base Service (PDBS) of the Department of the Parliamentary Library, the total interventions (questions and speeches) of the MPs from each of the above electorates was calculated for each year to give an annual denominator.

2. Using a key word search facility, all interventions which involved an explicit reference to an ethnic related issue were classified according to whether they were predominantly: a) a general ethnic issue (e.g. a speech on multiculturalism or immigration); b) a constituency ethnic issue (e.g. a reference to matters which directly related to the MP's ethnic constituents in his or her electorate); c) a homeland politics issue (e.g. interventions which related to some aspect of an overseas country because that MP's electorate contained a significant number of people from that country). Table 3 lists some examples for each type of issue to illustrate how the coding was done.

3. Placing all the ethnic interventions in any given year (point 2) over the total number of all interventions for that same year (point 1) gave what is termed the raw ethnic reference ratio for that year. For instance, if an MP made 20 interventions in 1984 (point 1) and 5 were ethnic related (point 2), then they had a raw ethnic reference ratio of 25 per cent in 1984.

Table 3: Example of how ethnic interventions by MPs were classified in the content analysis


  Type of issue          Electorate     Type of intervention     Example 

       
Constituency ethnic     Riverina       Speech, 30/5/91          ...on the contribution  
issue                                                           of Australians of       
                                                                Italian descent         

Constituency ethnic     Lowe           Speech in adjournment    ...appeal to the        
issue                                  debate, 10/5/83          Minister for            
                                                                Immigration re the case 
                                                                of a Lebanese           
                                                                constituent             

General ethnic issue    Calwell        Speech/Bill, 27/3/85     ...major speech on      
                                                                multicultural affairs   
                                                                and the need for        
                                                                representation of       
                                                                ethnic communities      

General ethnic issue    Bowman         Speech, 25/8/88          ...concern over         
                                                                apparent racism in      
                                                                immigration debate      

Homeland politics       Reid           Speech, 25/11/93         ...condemnation of the  
                                                                USSR for treatment of   
                                                                Ukrainians making       
                                                                reference to            
                                                                constituents of         
                                                                Ukrainian origin in his 
                                                                electorate              

Homeland politics       Fowler         Speech, 18/2/91          ...referring to         
                                                                constituents of         
                                                                Croatian origin making  
                                                                an appeal for Australia 
                                                                and the West not to     
                                                                ignore their plight  

Source: Hansard content analysis. All interventions were entered on specially formatted sheets listing the electorate, year and name of MP, the type of issue, the type of intervention including a page reference to the Hansard, and a brief summary of the issue.

4. To further refine the analysis a second ratio, the adjusted ethnic reference ratio was computed. This involved two separate steps: a) subtracting any portfolio related interventions of the MP. For instance, the member for Lowe was Shadow Minister for Health in 1991 and 1992. Any interventions which were health related in these years were therefore subtracted from the denominator; b) the ethnic related interventions were weighted according to their significance on a three point scale: they scored a '1' where the intervention was wholly or substantially ethnic related; a '0.5' where it was partly ethnic related but relatively substantial; and '0.25' where it was a small or passing reference to an ethnic issue. The weighted ethnic references over the portfolio adjusted total interventions gives the adjusted ethnic reference ratio. Unless otherwise stated, the discussion below always refers to the adjusted ratio.

5. The computed annual ratios were then plotted over time for each electorate in order to trace any within electorate change. A single score based on an average of the adjusted ethnic reference ratios over time was then computed for each electorate in order to allow an across electorate comparison (see Figure 1).(14)

Several limitations of the method warrant comment. First, in spite of the attempts to quantify ethnic references over time, it should be remembered that it remains a crude and imprecise measure and as such is an approximation of the degree of parliamentary responsiveness to ethnic constituents. Much of the richness of qualitative data is lost in quantification exercises such as this. Second, the boundaries between the three categories of ethnic issues (constituency, general and homeland politics) were often blurred and a degree of researcher bias was inevitable although a consistent approach was maintained. Third, as with the categorisation of issues, the weighting process should be seen as a crude rather than precise measure. Fourth, the figures and tables do not indicate whether the MP was in fact critical of ethnic communities or ethnic related issues such. While such cases were relatively rare one might correctly argue that they indicate a lack of responsiveness to ethnic constituents.(15) In this sense, there may be some over-estimation of the degree of ethnic responsiveness. Fifth, the group of electorates represents only 15 per cent of all Federal electorates and as already noted is not a truly random sample.(16) Casting the net wider may reveal a different picture. Finally, it should be remembered that the study focuses only on the official face of representation. An MP from an ethnic electorate, for instance, may perform poorly with respect to this measure of responsiveness in the Parliament but may nevertheless play an active role in ethnic issues while in the constituency arena. The remaining section of the paper discusses the main findings of the analysis.

The Findings: the Ethnic Electorate Effect?

The aggregate results of the Hansard content analysis of the twenty-two electorates are presented in figure 1. The electorates are presented from left to right in descending order of ethnicity. The percentage of people in the electorate born in non-English speaking countries (NESC) (left axis) is represented by the dark jagged line and shading in the background. The electorate of Fowler, for instance, is the most ethnic electorate with almost 45 per cent of people born in NESCs. At the other extreme is the electorate of Bendigo with under 3 per cent of people born in a NESC. The column above each electorate shows the average number of non-portfolio interventions. The line joined by the black squares is the average adjusted ethnic reference ratio for the electorate over the period analysed. For example, we can see from Figure 1 that the Member for Fowler averaged just over ten non-portfolio interventions per year (right hand axis) and had an average ethnic reference ratio of about 12 per cent (also left axis). Similarly, the electorate of Calwell had just under 30 per cent of people born in NESCs, its member averaged about 25 non-portfolio interventions per annum, but had an overall ethnic reference ratio of 38 per cent (the highest for the group).

Figure 1: The average adjusted ethnic reference ratio for all electorates

Figure 1: The average adjusted ethnic reference ratio for all electorates

What emerges from this aggregate picture? First, it would appear that representatives from ethnic electorates have higher degrees of responsiveness with respect to their ethnic constituents as measured by the ethnic reference ratio compared to representatives from the non-ethnic electorates. In other words, there appears to be an ethnic electorate effect on the parliamentary behaviour of MPs. Second, three electorates stand out as having an ethnic reference ratio higher than the proportion of ethnic constituents in their electorates: Calwell, Bowman and Riverina. Explanations for this finding are discussed below. Third, there would appear to be a greater degree of variation in the ethnic reference ratio amongst the group of ethnic electorates compared to the non-ethnic group (compare Fowler, Calwell and Menzies for example).

This is not the only story however. Another way of interpreting the data in figure 1 is to examine the number of ethnic references with respect to the actual proportion of people from NESB in the electorate. For instance, the proportion born in a NESC in Lowe was 31 per cent. This would suggest that if there was to be a perfect congruence in terms of parliamentary responsiveness, the ethnic reference ratio would also be or approximate 31 per cent. A perfect congruence between the proportion of ethnic references and the proportion of ethnic constituents, would mean that dividing the former by the latter would give a score of one.

This is not to suggest that perfect ethnic representation or responsiveness involves the exact mirroring of parliamentary interventions with the ethnic composition of the electorate. This measure (the proportion of the ethnic population of the electorate divided by the adjusted ethnic reference ratio), however, provides a benchmark against which the degree of ethnic responsiveness can be compared. The further from 'one' is this measure, which is termed the ethnic distance ratio, the less responsive (in parliamentary terms) it can be argued, is the electorate's representative/s to their ethnic constituents. Put simply, the ethnic distance ratio is the visual gap in figure 1 between the ethnic reference ratio line and the dark jagged line which shows the percentage of people born in NESC in the electorate. Table 4 gives the ethnic distance ratios for the individual electorates as well as the mean for the two groups of electorates. The figures in Table 4 not only confirm the variation that exists between electorates within the ethnic and non-ethnic groups but they also suggest a different picture with respect to the responsiveness of representatives to their ethnic constituents.

Table 4: The ethnic distance ratio of the electorates

   

     Ethnic electorates                   Non-ethnic electorates 

  
Electorate          Ethnic distance    Electorate           Ethnic distance    
                         ratio(a)                                ratio

           
Fowler                    3.65         Bendigo                    2.54        
Grayndler                 1.87         Dawson                     1.44        
Prospect                  3.09         Wakefield                  3.62        
Reid                      1.61         Riverina                   0.77        
Lowe                      1.70         Bowman                     0.85        
Calwell                   0.77         Moore                      1.45        
Bruce                     2.98         Boothby                    3.89        
Menzies                  10.64         Canning                    6.21        
Wentworth                 2.10         Burke                      4.70        
Chisholm                  4.22         Berowra                     2.0        
Greenway                  5.47                                                
Chifley                   4.61                                                


mean                      3.55                                    2.74   



(a) The EDR was derived by dividing the proportion of people born in NESCs in the electorate by the adjusted average reference ratio.

Across group differences

Bearing in mind the data related caveats raised previously, representatives from the non-ethnic electorates have a mean ethnic distance ratio closer to one, suggesting a better parliamentary responsiveness to their ethnic constituents than those from ethnic electorates. Figure 2 plots the electorates in rank order of their ethnic distance ratio. Those electorates which are closer to 1 on the vertical axis are those whose members' interventions in Parliament better reflected the proportion of ethnic constituents in their electorates. Viewing the data in this manner suggests that there is less of an ethnic electorate effect on representatives' parliamentary behaviour. Two of the three most ethnically responsive seats (Riverina and Bowman), for instance, have a relatively small proportion of people born in NESCs. In contrast, seven of the twelve ethnic electorates are all to the right hand side (lower responsiveness) of the median.

Figure 2: The ethnic distance ratio of the electorates in rank order

Figure 2: The ethnic distance ratio of the electorates in rank order

Within group differences

Looking at the ethnic electorates, the findings suggest that the majority of electorates perform quite badly on this measure. The electorates of Fowler, Prospect, Bruce, Chisholm, Greenway, Chifley, and in particular, Menzies, all have large distance ratios. This suggests that not all the representatives of the so-called ethnic electorates are reflecting their ethnic constituents in proportion to their numbers in the electorate. For example, if the most ethnic electorate, Fowler, were to have had the same distance ratio as the second least ethnic electorate, Dawson, the ethnic reference ratio for Fowler should have been approximately 30 per cent rather than 12 per cent. In absolute terms, Fowler may be considered more responsive because it had a higher ethnic reference ratio than say Dawson, but in relative terms, Dawson is more responsive because it has a smaller ethnic distance ratio. Within the non-ethnic electorates, only four had distance ratios above the median, and as was noted two of the three best performers were from this group.

Discussion

In the opening section of the paper several variables other than the ethnic composition of the electorate were thought likely to influence the representational behaviour of MPs. While the method of this study does not allow us to isolate and control the relative influence of such variables, several observations are nevertheless possible.

The marginality hypothesis

This hypothesis suggests that we may observe better responsiveness, as measured by our ethnic reference ratio in marginal rather than safe electorates. As with other tests of this hypothesis, the findings are somewhat mixed. Several points stand out. First, the figures in table 5, which gives the ethnic distance ratios of those electorates classified as marginal (post the 1993 election) suggests that marginality may be of greater importance amongst the ethnic electorates.

Table 5: The ethnic distance ratios of the marginal electorates



Marginal Ethnic    Ethnic distance     Marginal            Ethnic distance    
Electorates        ratio               non-ethnic          ratio              
                                       electorate 

                           
Lowe               1.70                Dawson              1.44               
Wentworth          2.10                Bendigo             2.54               
Bruce              2.98                Canning             6.21               
Chisholm           4.22                                                       
mean               2.75                mean                3.39 

             

The mean ethnic distance ratio of the four marginal ethnic electorates, for instance, is almost one unit lower than that for all the ethnic electorates. In contrast, that for the non-ethnic marginal electorates is higher than the mean ethnic distance ratio for all the non-ethnic electorates. This finding is consistent with the idea that in single-member geographical constituencies, the relationship of the representative to particular groups is likely to be stronger if the group is a significant force in the electorate (Jewell 1982, 116-7). Members in marginal electorates which have a high proportion of ethnic constituents (especially from the same ethnic community) are therefore more likely to try to appeal to those communities in their representational activities. Second, there is some evidence of outlier effects. For instance, removing the electorate of Chisholm from the ethnic group and that of Canning from the non-ethnic group would lend greater overall support to the marginality hypothesis. Nevertheless, with the exception of some individual electorates (Dawson and Lowe) there appears to be no strong pattern between marginality and ethnic responsiveness.

The party effect

As was noted earlier, a problem with attempting to isolate any partisan effect is the fact that most of the highly ethnic electorates are mostly held by the ALP. It was also noted that there has been substantial debate over whether this Labor dominance is reflective of these electorates' class or ethnic composition. As with marginality there are no clear patterns although several observations can be made. Within the ethnic group of electorates, the two Liberal only electorates (Bruce and Wentworth), did considerably better (in terms of ethnic distance ratio) than many of the Labor only seats within the group. In contrast, two of the five electorates within this group which have had substantial representation by the Liberal party (Menzies and Chisholm) have low levels of responsiveness. It is fair to say, however, that the poorest performer of all the electorates studied, Menzies, had a consistently low ethnic reference ratio in both its Labor and Liberal periods. It is also the case that some of the best performers (Calwell, Grayndler, Reid) were all held by Labor during the period. At the same time, however, one can point to the poor performance of Labor electorates such as Fowler, Prospect, Greenway and Chifley.

Within the non-ethnic electorates, a somewhat surprising result is the strong performance of the National Party, with two of the three most responsive electorates (Riverina and Dawson) being held by representatives from the National Party. The result of Riverina can perhaps be explained by the fact that although it only has 5 per cent of its population born in a NESC, there is a strong and long settled Italian community concentrated in and around the town of Griffith. The content analysis suggested that this was an important factor in the nature of the Riverina member's ethnic related interventions. The Italian community in the Riverina are substantial stake holders in the business undertakings in the area and have developed several avenues of political participation (Kelly 1984, 126-38). The result for Riverina once again lends support to the idea that a minority group in a single member electorate is likely to have a bigger influence on the elected representative when they are a significant force in the electorate. This finding also suggests that it may not be the ethnicity of the electorate (in terms of absolute proportions) which is important in influencing representational behaviour, but the relative importance (both numerical and economic) of any one particular ethnic group relative to the rest of the electorate.(17)

Once again, no clear patterns emerge with respect to the two major parties in the non-ethnic group, with Labor holding both one of the most responsive seats (Bowman), and the least responsive of the group (Canning). Similarly, the Liberals held the seat of Berowra, with a good responsiveness ratio, while also holding those of Boothby and Wakefield, with relatively poor ratios. Overall, with some key exceptions (which as suggested below are more likely to be associated with non-party factors), there is no strong evidence which suggests that Labor members are more responsive to ethnic issues than their Coalition counterparts. If the ALP has been more adept at wooing the ethnic vote in the past, therefore, this analysis suggests that it has more likely occurred at the constituency level.

The ethnic MP effect

One of the assumptions made by supporters of mirror representation is that MPs from an ethnic background are better able to represent constituents from a similar background. Bearing in mind the above noted caveats, this proposition is supported by the findings. Two of the three most responsive electorates (Calwell and Bowman) had representatives who were both born in a NESC. Both had ethnic reference ratios higher than the proportion of NESB constituents in their electorates. The member for Calwell, Dr Andrew Theophanous is a well known advocate of ethnic rights and immigration and was influential in the shaping of the previous government's policy on multiculturalism.(18)

The member for Bowman between 1987 and 1995 was Con Sciacca, the first Italian born member of the House of Representatives. Prior to his entry, the previous member's ethnic reference ratio was zero. Sciacca's adjusted ethnic reference ratio in his first year, however, was almost 37 per cent and 25 per cent in his penultimate year. Both these cases suggest that the ethnicity of the MP is an important influence in their representational behaviour with respect to ethnic Australians.(19) The word 'Australians' rather than 'constituents' was used because the findings suggest that they are taking on representational roles which extend beyond the geographical confines of their immediate electorates. Such behaviour by representatives from minority groups have been found in other countries, and is generally referred to as adopting an 'areal' role, or where the member's relationship to a particular group (in this case ethnic Australians) extends beyond the boundaries of a particular district or electorate (Jewell 1983, 312-3). Such representatives usually serve as spokespeople for these interests within the Parliament and the wider political arena.

That MPs from ethnic background should adopt such attitudes and behaviour is not surprising given that there have been so few in Federal Parliament. Often such a role is imposed on them by others in the party who feel a nation-wide 'ethnic leader' will improve the party's image with ethnic voters, but more often than not, it is self imposed by the MPs' themselves who feel they have a duty to represent all people from ethnic backgrounds. As Jewell (1982, 94) found with representatives from ethnic minority groups in the US:

They are frequently contacted by individuals and groups belonging to that minority from other parts of the metropolitan area, nearby counties, or other parts of the state. They often feel a particular sense of responsibility to represent the interests of that minority throughout the state.

This is not to suggest that they only represent ethnic constituents to the detriment of others in their electorates. Nevertheless, it is likely that if the presence of MPs from ethnic backgrounds in the Federal Parliament does not increase, especially from what have been termed ethnic electorates, then as Jewell (1982, 94) concluded: 'minority legislators are likely to continue to be perceived as representing a constituency that is broader than the district'.

The type of ethnic issues

Was there any pattern with respect to the type of ethnic interventions MPs made? As was noted earlier, interventions were categorised according to whether the issue primarily related to a general ethnic issue, a constituency ethnic issue or homeland politics. Although the latter is strictly speaking also a constituency issue, the distinction was made to assess whether MPs' views on foreign affairs issues are influenced by having constituents who originate from particular areas in their electorate. It is likely, however, that the figures on homeland politics are underestimated as it was not always possible to establish whether an intervention which supported or criticised another country or event therein was motivated by constituency pressures.(20) In most 'homeland politics' cases, however, members would often refer to the constituency link, which made classification easier. Otherwise, electorate specific data based on the 1991 census was consulted prior to the analysis in order to establish the main ethnic groups present in each electorate.

Table 6: The type of ethnic issues in the ethnic electorates



Electorate            General Ethnic       Constituency      Homeland Politics 
                         Issue (%)        Ethnic Issue (%)        Issue (%) 

    
Fowler                     19                  13                  69         
Grayndler                  75                  25                   -         
Prospect                   56                  26                  18         
Reid                       51                  24                  25         
Lowe                       41                  49                  10         
Calwell                    83                   3                  14         
Bruce                      63                   6                  31         
Menzies                    63                   -                  38         
Wentworth                  24                  14                  62         
Chisholm                   80                  13                   7         
Greenway                   40                  40                  20         
Chifley                    76                  21                   3         
Total                      58                  21                  21  

     

Source: Hansard content analysis, unweighted interventions.

Tables 6 and 7 show the proportion of 'issue types' for the ethnic and non-ethnic group of electorates. Several interesting findings emerge. First, although general ethnic issues are the most frequent type of intervention in both groups, there is a much stronger constituency focus in the group of ethnic electorates (42 per cent of all interventions) than in the non-ethnic group (20 per cent of all interventions). This greater constituency focus is consistent with the high proportion of ethnic constituents in these electorates. Second, there again appears to be some support for the marginality hypothesis in that most of the marginal electorates have a higher 'constituency' related intervention (Lowe and Dawson for example). Third, interventions relating to homeland politics is primarily an issue in ethnic electorates. Once again, this is not particularly surprising. The data do reveal, however, that the degree to which homeland politics issues are raised varies considerably across electorates within the ethnic group, suggesting that this issue may require further research.(21) Finally, and most importantly, the findings in tables 5 and 6 support the hypothesis that the ethnicity of the MP does make a difference. The dominance of the general ethnic issue type for both Calwell in the ethnic group (the highest at 83 per cent) and Bowman in the non-ethnic group (100 per cent) further supports the idea discussed above that ethnic representatives take on an 'areal' as opposed to a constituency based role to representation. They become (willingly or not) national representatives and symbols for Australians of ethnic background.

Table 7: The type of ethnic issues in the non-ethnic electorates



Electorate            General Ethnic       Constituency      Homeland Politics 
                         Issue (%)        Ethnic Issue (%)        Issue (%)  

  
Bendigo                    100                  -                   -         
Dawson                     39                  56                   5         
Wakefield                  67                  33                   -         
Riverina                   61                  22                  17         
Bowman                     100                  -                   -         
Moore                      70                  18                  12         
Boothby                    90                  10                   -         
Canning                    91                   9                   -         
Burke                      89                  11                   -         
Berowra                    100                  -                   -         
Total                      80                  16                   4 

       

Source: As for table 6.

Conclusion

Political representation is an activity and an institution which connects the people to the government (Schwartz 1988, 1). It is now generally accepted that to fully understand the process of representation, it must be viewed as a series of activities which involves the representative being responsive to his or her constituents. Reviewing the literature over a decade ago, Jewell (1983, 329) concluded that too much work had been done on the delegate/trustee dichotomy and not enough on the complexities of representation in modern democracies, especially the representation of minorities. A key complexity in many societies, including Australia, has been the increasing ethnic diversity of its citizenry. This was illustrated by the fact that 48 of Australia's 148 Federal electorates can be classified as 'ethnic'. Studies of representation in Australia continue to be within the delegate/trustee mould, while those on ethnic representation are virtually non-existent.

This paper began with the assumption that ethnicity influences representational behaviour in two ways: first, the ethnicity of the electorate and second, the ethnicity of the representative. It set out to explore the effect of ethnicity on the degree of responsiveness of MPs in their official arena or face of representation. Based on a content analysis of parliamentary interventions over time several tentative conclusions can be made. First, the ethnicity of the electorate does have an influence on ethnic responsiveness in absolute terms but less so in relative terms. In other words, MPs from ethnic electorates generally make more ethnic related interventions than MPs from non-ethnic electorates, but not as much as the proportion of ethnic constituents in these electorates would suggest they should make. The ethnicity of the electorate also influences the type of ethnic issues MPs make, with those from ethnic seats more likely to make constituency related issues. Second, the marginality of the seat, especially in ethnic electorates would appear to have a bigger influence on the degree and type of responsiveness than the political party to which the representative belongs. Finally, the ethnicity of the MP does have an influence in both the degree and type of ethnic responsiveness. The findings suggest, albeit tentative, that spaghetti should rejoice when linguini are elected!

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Endnotes


  1. Ethnic or ethnicity refers to Australians of non-English speaking background (NESB). A distinction is also made between people born in non-English speaking countries (NESBI) and their Australian born children (NESBII). While the concept of ethnicity is more complex than this it provides a useful working definition which is consistent with its usage in public policy.
  2. This paper is part of a wider project investigating how the ethnicity of the Australian electorate influences the nature of political representation, see Zappal (1997).
  3. This in fact corresponds to the finding by Emy (1974, 474) that MPs recognised three general sources of satisfaction in their work, related to their legislative, electoral and party work.
  4. The postwar immigration program has made Australia one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. Almost one quarter of Australians were born overseas, with those born in NESCs making up 14 per cent of the population. Twenty-two per cent of Australians were either born in a NESC or had one or both parents born in a NESC.
  5. Such electorates are termed 'ethnic electorates' throughout this paper. While such a cut-off point is arbitrary it closely corresponds to the proportion of people being born in a NESC at the national level.
  6. A possible explanation for this finding is that MPs from safe districts correlate better with their constituents' preferences because they have more time to learn the preferences of their constituents, see Pennock (1979, 317).
  7. In contrast, Economou (1995) has argued that a strong primary vote for the ALP in 'ethnic seats' is not simply the product of the ALP being more sensitive to 'ethnic' demands relative to other political parties but a reflection of the class basis of ethnic voters.
  8. Even Economou (1995, 29) has argued that 'certainly policy matters pertaining to the interests of NESB Australians would be keenly appreciated in these areas' (ie ethnic electorates).
  9. Other terms used in the literature to mean the same thing include descriptive or statistical representation.
  10. For arguments on how to achieve mirror representation as well as some of the theoretical and practical problems associated with it see Kymlicka (1995, Chs 2 and 7).
  11. One survey, for example, suggested that the proportion of radio talkback callers supporting the anti-immigration and anti-multicultural MP fell from 63 to 33 per cent after Parliament passed the bi-partisan motion, Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 1996.
  12. The 1996 year only includes the first sitting period of the year which ended on 27 June 1996.
  13. There were no rural electorates with more than 15 per cent of the population born in NESC.
  14. Annual results are not reproduced here although are available on request from the author.
  15. In general, they related to interventions by Coalition MPs which criticised aspects of the Labor party's approach to multiculturalism rather than multiculturalism itself. Furthermore, such interventions were often prefaced by remarks that they were also speaking on behalf of their ethnic constituents.
  16. The ethnic electorates in the study, however, constitute one quarter of all 'ethnic electorates'.
  17. This was also found to be the case in a study of service responsiveness in an ethnic electorate where two ethnic groups made much greater use of the services of the Federal MP, see Zappal (1997).
  18. See, for instance, Theophanous (1995).
  19. Further evidence, albeit more tentative (because of the short time periods involved), are the electorates of Grayndler and Lowe. In the case of Grayndler, the new member who was elected at the March 1996 election, Anthony Albanese (NESBII) had an adjusted ethnic reference ratio of 33 per cent in his first half year in Parliament. In the case of Lowe, the new member elected in March 1996 was Paul Zammit (NESBI), whose adjusted ethnic reference ratio for the first half of 1996 was 23.4 per cent. It is also interesting to note that the member for Moore since 1990, Paul Filing (born in Germany of English speaking parents), had one of the lowest ethnic distance ratios (at 1.45) even though he represented a non-ethnic electorate.
  20. Another reason why homeland political issues may be underestimated is that many MPs often pass on diasporic issues to other MPs to air publicly, where they feel that their intervention on behalf of a particular country is likely to be either interpreted as being influenced by the presence of a particular ethnic community in their constituency or offend other ethnic groups which also reside in the electorate ( Zappal 1997).
  21. Informal interviews conducted with several MPs, for instance, indicated that some feel 'captured' or constrained to express certain views on particular foreign policy issues because of the particular ethnic composition of their electorates. For one politician's view see (Theophanous and Stavrou Michael 1990).

(N = 48)



Electorate       State   % born in  % using     Party      Member & 2PP        Party/member  
                                    LOTE        (<3/96)c    (<3/96) d           (>3/96) e    
                         NESC a     at home b 

                                             
Fowler           NSW     44.5       54.5        ALP        T. Grace (72)       ALP           
Grayndler        NSW     39.0       47.8        ALP        J. McHugh (73)      ALP, A. Albanese      
Watson           NSW     38.6       53.1        ALP        L. McLeay (64)      ALP           
Prospect         NSW     37.8       48.3        ALP        J. Crosio (69)      ALP           
Maribyrnong      Vic     35.9       48.8        ALP        A. Griffiths (69)   ALP, B. Sercombe      
Blaxland         NSW     34.6       47.2        ALP        Paul Keating (72)   ALP           
Gellibrand       Vic     34.4       43.5        ALP        Ralph Willis (75)   ALP           
Reid             NSW     34.2       44.6        ALP        L. Ferguson (69)    ALP           
Hotham           Vic     31.1       36.5        ALP        S. Crean (63)       ALP           
Holt             Vic     31.0       33.0        ALP        M. Duffy (60)       ALP, G. Evans 
Lowe             NSW     31.0       40.4        ALP        M. Easson (55)      LIB, P. Zammit        
Kingsford-Smith  NSW     30.6       36.0        ALP        L. Brereton (65)    ALP           
Melbourne        Vic     30.5       36.7        ALP        L. Tanner (74)      ALP           
Scullin          Vic     30.0       46.1        ALP        H. Jenkins (69)     ALP           
Batman           Vic     29.8       43.7        ALP        B. Howe (73)        ALP, M. Ferguson      
Wills            Vic     29.8       43.2        IND        P. Cleary (52)      ALP, K. Thomson       
Calwell          Vic     29.3       40.8        ALP        A. Theophanous(68)  ALP           
Bruce (f)        Vic     28.7       32.4        Liberal    J. Beale            ALP, A. Griffin       
Barton           NSW     27.5       36.7        ALP        Gary Punch (59)     ALP           
Melb. Ports      Vic     24.2       25.4        ALP        C. Holding (56)     ALP           
Menzies          Vic     23.0       30.6        Liberal    K. Andrews (59)     Lib           
Wentworth        NSW     22.8       21.9        Liberal    A. Thomson (55)     Lib           
Chisholm         Vic     22.2       25.8        Liberal    M. Wooldridge (53)  Lib           
Bennelong        NSW     22.1       24.6        Liberal    J. Howard (53)      Lib           
Greenway         NSW     21.3       24.4        ALP        R. Gorman (63)      ALP           
Sydney           NSW     19.9       20.8        ALP        P. Baldwin (69)     ALP           
Chifley          NSW     19.9       22.8        ALP        R. Price (73)       ALP           
North Sydney     NSW     19.8       19.4        IND        T. Mack (52)        Lib, J. Hockey        
Perth            WA      19.8       19.6        ALP        S. Smith (56)       ALP           
Lalor            Vic     19.7       26.0        ALP        B. Jones (67)       ALP           
Parramatta       NSW     19.0       21.1        ALP        P. Elliot (53)      Lib, R. Cameron       
Port Adelaide    SA      18.9       24.2        ALP        R. Sawford (62)     ALP           
Tangney          WA      18.5       15.7        Liberal    D. Williams (62)    Lib           
Higgins          Vic     18.4       20.1        Liberal    P. Costello (60)    Lib           
Stirling         WA      18.2       20.8        Liberal    E. Cameron (51)     Lib           
Throsby          NSW     17.4       21.8        ALP        C. Hollis (74)      ALP           
Cowan            WA      17.2       17.1        Liberal    R. Evans (51)       Lib           
Sturt            SA      17.1       21.2        Liberal    C. Pyne (56)        Lib           
Adelaide         SA      16.4       20.7        Liberal    T. Worth (51)       Lib           
Kooyong          Vic     16.3       18.0        Liberal    P. Georgiou (64)    Lib    

      

Source: Australian Electoral Commission and Parliamentary Research Service. 1995, Electoral Atlas 1995, Rev. Ed. January 1996, Canberra: AGPS; A. Kopras. 1995, Comparisons of 1991 Census Characteristics: Commonwealth Electoral Divisions (1994 Boundaries), BP. No.34, Canberra: Parliamentary Research Service, Department of the Parliamentary Library.

a Percentage of persons in electorate born in non-English speaking countries.

b Percentage of persons in electorate speaking a language other than English at home.

c Political party which held the seat prior to the election on 2 March 1996.

d Name of MP who held the seat prior to the March 1996 election. The number in brackets refers to the two-party preferred vote for that MP (1993 election).

e Political party, name of MP (where different) after the March 1996 election..

f The post-1993 boundary changes turned Bruce into a notional Labor seat which it in fact won in 1996.

 

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