What Degrees do Ministers in Australia Have and Why it Matters (Guess the top 3!)

What Degrees do Ministers in Australia Have

When you went to vote in the federal election last month, did you have any idea what formal qualifications your candidate had?

When you went to vote in the federal election last month, did you have any idea what formal qualifications your candidate had?

Chances are, you didn’t, but you wouldn’t be alone in that. In fact (as we discovered when drafting this article!) trying to find data on types of education among the newly elected 46th Parliament of Australia is no easy task.

We decided to take on the challenge, and answer what seems like an obvious question, ‘what degrees do our Ministers and Shadow Ministers actually have?’

We’ve compiled own data set, based on information collected from the Australian Parliament website. We looked at formal qualifications of the 23 Liberal-Coalition Ministers, and 21 Shadow Ministers of the Opposition.

Who are the Ministers and Shadow Ministers?

The Ministers and Shadow Ministers are the MPs and Senators who have been given an official ‘portfolio’ by their party (i.e. Minister of Education). They are just a fraction of the representatives who form our federal government. The House of Representatives has 150 MPs, and the Senate has 76 members.

Specifically, when looking at their education we wanted to know:

What differences are there between the major parties, in terms of their qualifications? What educational backgrounds are our Ministers coming from? And, does any of this matter?

(Before you read on, see if you can guess the top 3. No prizes for getting it right!)

Here’s what we found

Labor: Among 21 Shadow Ministers, there are a total of 34 qualifications all together, ranging from certificate to doctorate level. The vast majority are Bachelors Degrees.

Liberal: Among 23 Ministers, there are a total of 49 qualifications, also ranging from certificate to doctorate level; again the vast majority are Bachelor’s Degrees.

So, what are the 3 most popular degrees?

Without a doubt, the three most popular degrees across both parties are:

  1. Law
  2. Arts
  3. Economics

Differences between the education types and levels of the parties?

There are not any particularly large differences in the educational backgrounds of both parties (see the chart below for details.) For both, Bachelors in Law and Arts are the dominant qualification by far.

There is slightly more diversity in types of degrees in the Liberal Cabinet, plus it contains more business and economics focused degrees. Whereas, Labor Shadow Ministers tend to lean slightly more towards arts, humanities and journalism.

Other fun facts

  • There are two people out of the total 44 without any formal qualifications, and they are both in the Liberal Cabinet (see below).
  • Of the total 83 qualifications (among 44 people), 12 are at a certificate or diploma level, (four of these belong to one person, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, Minister for Defence!)
  • The most popular combination of qualifications was a double degree in Arts and Law, across both parties.
  • The most popular Universities among Ministers of both parties are the University of Sydney, Adelaide University, and Monash University.

Results in summary

Qualification Labor Shadow Ministers Liberal Ministers
Law 10 11
Arts 10 9
Economics 3 7
Education or Teaching 2 6
Business Administration 2 6
Political Science, Government Policy 2 1
Communications 2 1
Science 1 3
Accounting 0 2
Defense 0 2
Social Work 1 0
Information Systems 0 1
Psychology 1 0
TOTAL 34 49

Scroll down for a full table of every individual politician and their degree.

And, the final question: does any of this matter?

There are several different ways to answer that question, depending on your point of view.

Who’s actually represented?

If you were someone who is concerned about our Ministers coming from a wealthy elite that doesn’t represent or understand the daily struggles of other Australians, then you would potentially be concerned.

Not only do the majority of Ministers we’ve tallied have a fairly uniform Arts/Law double degree; they’re also often graduates of the more expensive universities. As we can see from the degree types of Ministers across both parties, very few can claim to be really ‘of the working class,’ so it’s probably good to be skeptical of any MP who wears a hard hat.

In fact, according to an ABC report published last year, legal professionals (barristers, solicitors, lawyers, etc.) make up 10.6% of the Australian Parliament, and only 0.7% of the Australian population as a whole. While this may be good for interpreting the law (which is a big function of parliament), it’s not very good in terms of representative democracy.

Better ideas, please

If you want a more innovative government, then you may also want more diversity.

There has been a lot of research lately into benefits of diversity in fostering innovation in business. By putting people who are very different together to solve problems, you generate more creative solutions!

With the serious challenges we face, such as climate change, the 46th Australian parliament could probably use an injection of some new input from people of different backgrounds. After all, Australians are far more diverse than the faces we see in parliament, and we’ve come up with some great ideas (lamingtons, yum!)

Relevance to the actual job description

If you’re employing a tax agent to sort out your finances, you want to know they’ve studied accounting. So, what about the group of people we’ve ‘hired’ to run the country?

Some Ministers are incredibly competent, arriving at their job with a CV that makes them appear they’ve worked towards their portfolio their entire life. However, it’s not uncommon in our political system for politicians to be handed a job in an area they’ve never had any experience in. That’s not great, for obvious reasons.

Take Sussan Ley, for example. At a moment when the effects of climate change are devastating Australia, she is our Environment Minister. Has she studied biology, environmental science or natural resource management? Nope, she has master’s degrees in taxation and accountancy, and she changed her name from Susan to Sussan due to a belief in numerology.

When it comes to being a Minister in the Australian Parliament, degrees matter.

Want to know exactly who studied exactly what? Get Ready! Here are our detailed tables of all Ministers and Shadow Ministers, and their qualifications.

Labor Shadow Ministers: What degrees do they have?

Hon Bill Shorten MP: Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
Law at Monash University
Hon Tanya Plibersek MP : Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Education and Training, Shadow Minister for Women
Bachelor of Communications at UTS, Masters in Public Policy and Politics at Macquarie University.



Senator the Hon Penny Wong: Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs
 Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees, University of Adelaide



Senator the Hon Don Farrell: Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
Shadow Special Minister of State, Shadow Minister for Sport
Bachelor of Law, University of Adelaide





Hon Chris Bowen MP: Shadow Treasurer, Shadow Minister for Small Business


Bachelor of Economics, Sydney University
Hon Tony Burke MP: Shadow Minister for Environment and Water
Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia, Shadow Minister for the Arts, Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives
BA of Arts, BA of Economics, Sydney University
Hon Mark Butler MP: Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy  BA Arts in Jurisprudence and a BA of Law, Adelaide University





Linda Burney MP: Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services, Shadow Minister for Preventing Family Violence
Diploma of Teaching,



Mitchell College of Advanced Education



Hon Richard Marles MP: Shadow Minister for Defence
BA of Science and Bachelor of Laws with Honours, Melbourne University



Hon Amanda Rishworth MP: Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Shadow Minister for Defence Personnel, Shadow Minister for Early Childhood Education and Development BA Psychology at Flinders University






Hon Anthony Albanese MP: Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development, Shadow Minister for Tourism
BA Economics at the University of Sydney





Dr Jim Chalmers MP: Shadow Minister for Finance
BA Arts, BA Communications, from Griffith University.



PhD in political science and international relations at the Australian National University


Hon Brendan O’Connor MP: Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations



BA Arts and BA Law, Monash University
Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP:


Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Minister for National Security, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives


BA of Arts, BA of Law, University of Melbourne
Hon Shayne Neumann MP: Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection BA Law and BA Arts, University of QLD
Senator the Hon Kim Carr:  Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research



BA Arts with Honours and Master of Arts degrees in History, and a Diploma of Education, Melbourne University



Michelle Rowland MP: Shadow Minister for Communications



BA Law, Sydney University
Hon Joel Fitzgibbon MP: Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Shadow Minister for Rural and Regional Australia
Graduate Certificate in Business Administration (Ncle)



Hon Jason Clare MP:



Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia
Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment
BA Arts, BA Law, UNSW
Hon Catherine King MP: Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare



BA Social Work, Philip Institute of Technology, MA Public Policy, ANU



Hon Julie Collins MP: Shadow Minister for Ageing and Mental Health



Business Administration Cert IV, TAFE Tasmania




Liberal Ministers and Their Degrees

The Hon Scott Morrison MP: Prime Minister, Minister for the Public Service



Economic Geography at UNSW
The Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP: Minister for Indigenous Australians Bachelor of Education, Churchlands College of Advanced Education



Diploma of Education, Diploma of Teaching, Mt Lawley College of Advanced Education


The Hon Michael McCormack MP: Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and Regional Development



Cadetship with Daily Advertiser



The Hon David Littleproud MP: Minister for Water Resources, Drought, Rural Finance, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management



No Formal Qualification
The Hon Alan Tudge MP: Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure



MBA, Harvard University,


Bachelor Arts, Law, University of Melbourne


The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP: Treasurer



Law and Economics at Monash University



Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann: Minister for Finance, (Vice-President of the Executive Council)
(Leader of the Government in the Senate)
LLC, Notre Dame University, Namur


LLL, Catholic University of Leuven


Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie: Minister for Agriculture



Bachelor of Applied Science,


Bachelor of Technology, Deakin University


Senator the Hon Marise Payne: Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women



BA Arts, BA Law, University of New South Wales



Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham:


Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment
(Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate)


MBA, Adelaide University



The Hon Christian Porter MP: Attorney-General
Minister for Industrial Relations
(Leader of the House)
MA Science, London School of Economics and Political Science


BA Economics, BA Arts, BA Law, University of Western Australia


The Hon Greg Hunt MP: Minister for Health
Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Cabinet
BA Arts, BA Law, University of Melbourne



The Hon Peter Dutton MP: Minister for Home Affairs



BA Business, QUT



The Hon Paul Fletcher MP: Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts MBA, Columbia University


BA Arts, BA Law, University of Sydney


The Hon Daniel Tehan MP: Minister for Education



BA Arts, Melbourne University


Master of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Monash,

Master of International Relations, Kent


Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash: Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business



BA Arts, Curtin University of Technology


BA Law, University of London,

Graduate Diploma of Legal Practise, University of Western Australia


The Hon Karen Andrews MP: Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Mechanical Engineering at QUT
Senator the Hon Matthew Canavan: Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Bachelor Economics, BA Arts, University of QLD
The Hon Angus Taylor MP: Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction



BA Economics, BA Law, University of Sydney


MA Philosophy (Economics) University of Oxford


The Hon Sussan Ley MP: Minister for the Environment



MA Accounting, Charles Sturt University


BA Economics, La Trobe University

MA Taxation, University of New South Wales


Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC: Minister for Defence



GradDip Defence Management, (University of Canberra)


BA Communications (Curtin University)

GradCert Strategic Studies (Australian Defence College)

CertIVAssessment&WorkplaceTraining (Southern Cross University)

GradCert Training&Dev (Australian Army)

GradCert Training&Dev (Southern Cross University)


Senator the Hon Anne Ruston: Minister for Families and Social Services
(Manager of Government Business in the Senate)
BBus, University of Southern Queensland



The Hon Stuart Robert MP:


Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme
Minister for Government Services


GradDip Info Analysis (default)


MBA, Central Queensland University

BA Arts, UNSW,


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