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Analyzing the Professional Networks of Australian Members of Parliament from 1947 to 2019


Core Concepts
This study analyzes the professional networks of Australian Members of Parliament (MPs) from 1947 to 2019 using complex hypergraph methods. It reveals insights into the decline of working-class and trade unionist representation in the Australian Labor Party, the homogeneous elitism of the mid-20th century Liberal Party, and the increasing similarity of both parties' professional networks over time.
Abstract
The study proposes a suite of methods to analyze the professional networks of MPs, using graphs and hypergraphs to capture both the direct connections between MPs and the shared attributes among them. Key findings: The Australian Labor Party (ALP) exhibited a "bouquet structure" in its professional networks prior to the 1980s, with densely connected groups of trade unionists and manual laborers connected by a small number of central figures. This contributed to high transitivity but low average maximal flow in the network. The Liberal Party (LP) professional networks in the mid-20th century were highly connected, with a large proportion of MPs from professional backgrounds like law and management. This homogeneity led to high connectivity in the network. Over time, the distinctiveness between the ALP and LP professional networks has decreased, as both parties have converged on a more cartelized recruitment model, drawing from similar professional backgrounds. The study demonstrates the value of the attributes-as-networks approach in uncovering the structural features and long-term trends in political elite networks, which can provide new insights into processes of political representation, diversity, and elite political dynamics.
Stats
The data consists of the career backgrounds of all Australian parliamentary members from 1947 to 2019, including party affiliation, university background, prior occupation, and military experience.
Quotes
"The bouquet structure is of particular importance. It typified ALP party organisation in a period where trade unionists with backgrounds in manual labour were routinely selected as candidates. While loosely connected by their union experience, they had little in common with the elite wing of the party whose backgrounds were professional, university-educated and with military experience." "Over time, the distinctiveness in the MP and attribute networks has decreased, as party recruitment has converged on a cartellised recruitment model."

Deeper Inquiries

How do the structural features of professional networks among political elites in other countries compare to the Australian case

The structural features of professional networks among political elites in other countries can vary significantly compared to the Australian case. While the Australian context shows a convergence in the professional backgrounds of MPs from different parties, other countries may exhibit different patterns. For example, in some countries, there may be a stronger presence of political dynasties, where family ties play a significant role in political recruitment. In contrast, other countries may have a more diverse range of occupational backgrounds represented among political elites. Additionally, the level of professionalization in politics, the influence of interest groups, and the role of educational institutions in shaping political networks can also differ across countries.

To what extent do the observed changes in the professional networks of Australian political parties reflect broader societal trends in education, occupational structure, and class mobility

The observed changes in the professional networks of Australian political parties reflect broader societal trends in education, occupational structure, and class mobility to a significant extent. The decline in working-class and trade unionist MPs from the Labor Party aligns with broader shifts in the labor market towards a more service-oriented economy and a decrease in traditional blue-collar industries. The increasing similarity in professional backgrounds across parties may reflect a broader trend towards professionalization in politics, where candidates with specific educational and occupational backgrounds are favored. This trend could also be influenced by changes in social mobility, with certain professions becoming more accessible to individuals from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.

What are the implications of the increasing similarity in the professional backgrounds of Australian political elites for the substantive representation of different social groups

The increasing similarity in the professional backgrounds of Australian political elites has implications for the substantive representation of different social groups. As the composition of political elites becomes more homogenous in terms of professional backgrounds, there is a risk of limited diversity in perspectives and experiences among decision-makers. This could potentially lead to a lack of representation for marginalized or underrepresented groups in policy-making processes. It is essential for political parties to actively consider and promote diversity in their candidate selection processes to ensure that a wide range of voices and experiences are represented in the political arena. Additionally, efforts to enhance transparency and accountability in political recruitment can help mitigate the potential negative effects of a narrowing professional network among political elites.
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