Will the 43rd parliament of Australia survive the next two years?

Good question. I mean, what are the odds?

Australia’s 43rd parliament is a precarious one. Last year’s federal election resulted in a hung parliament in the House of Representatives, with a minority Labor government clinging to power with the help of the Greens and a few Independents. Now I don’t want to sound morbid but, Heaven forbid, should any one of the Honorable Members die, the resulting by-election could conceivably bring down the government. So finely balanced are the numbers.

So, I wonder, what IS the probability that this will happen before the next election, due in 2013?

Statisticians that devote themselves to thinking about exactly this sort of question are called Actuaries, and when calculating risk of mortality they reference a thing called a Life Table. Life tables list the probabilities that a person aged x will survive to x+1 years. For example, looking at the most recent Life Tables for Australia, the probability that a female aged 40 will die before turning 41 is 0.00078 (i.e. 0.078%). Or looking at it in a more positive light, the chance a 40 year old female will live to see her 41st birthday is 1-0.00078, or a healthy 99.922%.

So turning our attention back to the 150-member House of Representatives, what is the probability that one or more of them might shuffle off this mortal coil in the next two years, resulting in a by-election and/or a change of government?

To be rigorous I should aggregate individual probabilities of survival based on each member’s age and gender. But I can’t be arsed, so I’ll talk about it in terms of generalities.

If I recall correctly, the average age of a politician is 51 years. Despite this being a modern society in the year 2011, our parliament is still a massive sausage-fest. Men in government significantly outnumber women. So I’ll just be lazy and use the qx column in the Australian Life Tables linked above for males aged 51 and 52.

From the Life Table, the probability that a male aged 51 years will survive to his 53rd birthday is (1-0.00332)*(1-0.00359)=0.993. Therefore the chance that every member of the 150 seat parliament survives for the next two years can be approximated at 0.993^150=0.349 (i.e. 34.9%). The likelihood that one or more parliamentarian dies within the next two years is the complement all surviving, calculated as 1-0.349=0.651 (65.1%).

65%. That’s a pretty high risk that the parliament won’t see out its full term.