Home > Media > Plucking figures from outer space vacuum?

Plucking figures from outer space vacuum?

This is Q+A,

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Q+A is TVNZ’s “flagship” weekly, current affairs programme, usually hosted by well-known broadcaster, radio host, and author, Paul Holmes.

This is Guyon Espiner,

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Guyon Espiner

G.

Espiner is TVNZ’s interviewer on their current affairs programme, Q+A.

On the weekend of 8/9 October, Espiner led a debate on MPP with Lianne Dalziel (L) and Simon Bridges (N). Dalziel was supporting the pro-MMP debate; Bridges was promoting the anti-MMP/pro-SM debate.

During the debate, Espiner raised the issue of the ratio of MPs-per-population, in several countries. He said,

One of the questions that people have about MMP – and, in fact, it would be the same with Supplementary Member because theres 120 MPs under both systems. In Australia, theres one MP to every 97,000 people. England – one MP to every 95,000 people. New Zealand – one MP to every 36,000 people. Simon Bridges, isnt the problem-?Source

Espiner compared Australia’s one MP to every 97,000 to New Zealand’s one MP to every 36,000 people.

According to Espiner, we have just over two and a half times more MPs-per-head-of-population than Australia.

Can this be true?

No, it’s not true.

Whoever researched those figures stuffed up.

The actual figures are;

  • Australia:  one MP per 28,000 (approx)
  • New Zealand: one MP per 36,000 (approx)

In fact, we have less MPs per-head-of-population than Australia.

How did Espiner (or Q+A’s researchers) make such a blunder? The answer is simple arithmetic-gone-wrong;

New Zealand’s population is (approximately) 4.4 million people.

We have, at present, 122 MPs.

4.4 million divided by 122 = 36,000 (approx)

Q+A estimated their incorrect figure in the following manner,

22 million divided by 226 MPs = 97,000 (approx)

But there are two errors in that calculation.

1. The population of Australia is (approximately) 22 million – not 20 million.

2. There are indeed 226 Federal MPs in Australia. But there are also an additional 583 State MPs in Australia, making 809 Members of Parliament in total.

Federal and State MPs are broken down thusly,

226 in the two houses of the Australian Federal Parliament:

- The House of Representatives with 150 elected representatives.
- The Senate (the upper house) has 76 elected senators.

17 in the single house of the Australian Capital Territory Parliament:

- The Assembly with 17 elected representatives.

135 in the two houses of the New South Wales State Parliament:

- The Assembly with 93 elected representatives.
- The Legislative Council (the upper house) has 42 elected senators.

25 in the single house of the Northern Territory Parliament:

- The Assembly with 25 elected representatives.

85 in the single house of the Queensland State Parliament:

- The House of Representatives with 85 elected representatives.

58 in the two houses of the South Australian State Parliament:

- The House of Representatives with 47 elected representatives.
- The Senate (the upper house) has 11 elected senators.

40 in the two houses of the Tasmanian State Parliament:

- The House of Assembly with 25 elected representatives.
- The Legislative Council (the upper house) has 15 elected members.

128 in the two houses of the Victorian State Parliament:

- The House of Representatives with 88 elected representatives.
- The Senate (the upper house) has 40 elected senators.

95 in the two houses of the West Australian State Parliament:

- The House of Representatives with 59 elected representatives.
- The Senate (the upper house) has 36 elected senators. Source

In the interests of fairness and accuracy, it is vital that our media present information that we can rely on. This is not some academic matter of debate – we are considering whether or not to change or retain our electoral system.

Sloppy presentation of incorrect information will not be helpful.

One hopes that TVNZ will lift it’s game in the coming weeks as the General Election and Referendum approaches.

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I emailed Q+A on the same day (Sunday, 9 October 2011 5:55 p.m.) that this episode appeared. My email consisted of my blog entry, as given above.

Tim Watkin, Q+A’s producer responded, two days later (Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 12:02 PM) with this email,

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from:    Q+A Q+A@tvnz.co.nz
to:    [email]
date:    Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 12:02 PM
subject:    RE: Comment – A Programme – Q+A

Hi Frank,

Thanks for your comments, but rather than being sloppy etc, we’ve just
taken a different measure than you. The comparisons we made with other
countries included federal parliamentary MPs only, not State MPs. I
imagine you’ve figured this out yourself.

We don’t have State MPs in NZ, so it would be comparing apples with
oranges to include them. Sure, Australia and other countries have that
extra layer of democracy – but they are not MPs as we know them in this
country and do not have the same power and responsibility, so it seemed
to us the more accurate (or at least less inaccurate) comparison was to
limit our comparisons to national MPs. That way we’re comparing like
with like.

We decided that to most of our viewers “MP’ would mean members of a
national parliament, not a state one. Obviously you are one who defines
MP differently, but I suspect you’d be in the minority of viewers.

Regards,

Tim Watkin
Producer, Q+A

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To which I replied, on the same day,

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from    [email]
to    Q+A <Q+A@tvnz.co.nz>
date    Tue, Oct 11, 2011 at 4:15 PM
subject    Re: Comment – A Programme – Q+A

Tim,

Thankyou for your response.

With regards to your explanation, I would submit the following;

“The comparisons we made with other
countries included federal parliamentary MPs only, not State MPs. I
imagine you’ve figured this out yourself.”

Indeed, I realised that immediately. This is an error made recently by another media outlet and I recognised the basis for the figures almost immediatly, as I had seen them before.

However, as you pointed out, it is worth noting that I’d be perhaps one of a handful of people who would realise this. The rest of the country watching that segment would take the figures  mentioned at face value.

“We decided that to most of our viewers “MP’ would mean members of a
national parliament, not a state one. Obviously you are one who defines
MP differently, but I suspect you’d be in the minority of viewers.”

I disagree and that explanation seems somewhat artificial. No mention was made of your definition between Federal and State MPs. State governments in Australia are just that; state governments with their own MPs, Parliaments, and Governor Generals. They pass their own laws; have their own Police; have a (somewhat loose) border-controls;  and even  extradition treaties with other (Australian) states.

Perhaps it would have been appropriate to point this out to viewers so that they could come to their own conclusions? As it is, only one interpretation has been presented, and that interpretation is, well, open to interpretation.

You’re correct; we don’t have State MPs. In which case comparing Australia with New Zealand was not comparing apples-with-apples. (Australia would probably prefer that we don’t mention our apples to them, at any rate.) So it wasn’t an accurate comparison even by your definitions.

All the best,
-Frank

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  1. Red
    11 October 2011 at 12:46 pm

    I hate it when the media gives us incorrect informatuon like this. We rely on them for so much and when they get it wrong they really can have a bad effect on how we look at things. All I can say is thank god for blooggers who can keep things real.

  2. Deborah Kean
    12 October 2011 at 12:31 am

    First, “different than”, my pet hate, Mr Watkin…
    Second, his excuses are simply no good. It’s not how you would take it, but how Joe and Joanne Average would take it…

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