What’s the path to getting into politics?

A round table discussion with a Young Labor member, a political graduate and a politics addict.


Hi Footnotes,

I am currently studying a Bachelor of Commerce, majors in finance and accounting, but politics have always interested me.

A few of my friends are doing Bachelor of Arts majoring in politics, but just how many of our politicians have gone through that area of study?

What is the “normal” level of education that our politicians have?

I’ve looked at the credentials of a few of my locals, and they seem to have law degrees.

How does one seek to join a party?

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For this round table discussion we invited these guys to join us.

  • Expert one: Politics Addict (Addicted to Politics)
  • Expert two: Arts (Politics) and Commerce Graduate (Political Grad)
  • Expert three: Young Labor (Foot in the Door)

Foot in the Door:

When we look at Australia’s political landscape it’s easy to realise that there is no one training ground for politicians. So, don’t do politics at university unless it’s genuinely the subject you would enjoy studying the most, as in, don’t do it just because you want to go into politics. Personality and connections is more important than the academic subjects chosen.

It’s more important what you do outside of your degree at university, in my opinion. Try to get involved with uni political clubs and go for internships that can give you real life experience.

Go to meetings, get involved at your community level. Contribute, contribute, contribute!

If you want to go into politics you obviously already have a good understanding of how the system works, but if not (and if you aren’t studying politics) throw in an Australian Politics elective or two so you at least have a basic understanding of how the system works.

Political Grad:

I work at Deloitte now in their analyst team. So fair to say that I am using my Commerce degree more than my Arts.

The assumption that if you study politics you’ll become a politician is wrong. Politics is far more than the study of boring men in boring suits. It’s study of power, the who, what, where and why of the world.

You’ll learn about international relations, environmental politics, defence policy, political philosophy, policy-making and key historical moments in the political arena.

The Footnotes:

So, what do you study?

Political Grad:

Did you ever want to know what policy and politics mediate our relationship with China, the United States or Europe and how this impacts upon investment decisions? What the root of the problem is in the Middle East? The effects of the impending mess that is the US election?

This is the kind of thing that you’ll learn in this course.

The Footnotes:

Back to the main question, how do you become a politician – if not necessarily through a politics degree?

Foot in the Door:

You need a thick skin and to be assertive and enough knowledge to competently represent your constituent amongst others who are also vying for their ideas/proposals/interests/next-re-election.

The Footnotes:

That’s a mouthful! What do you think, Addicted to Politics?

Addicted to Politics:

Australians tend to like politicians who have had life experience. There is a general assumption that there’s no point getting a uni degree then going straight into politics as you will only be known as a professional politician. Like Foot in the Door said, a good politician is representing the voices of their constituent, my argument is how can someone with no life experience do that?

Nevertheless, a good way to get started is to join a political party and you’ll get to meet all kinds of interesting people, and you’ll get the chance to help out during election campaigns and see what it is really like. Joining Young Labor/Liberals or the Greens is more effective than completing a political degree in isolation – as is being active in student politics on campus.

My advice is to stick with Finance and Economics and couple your degree with campus experience and political exposure.

Disclosure: It’s important to remember these are just opinions of the panel, and that this article’s advice shouldn’t be used in isolation when making your decision about studying politics. Remember, opinions are limited to a person’s own experience. 

What’s the path to getting into politics?
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