Albanese’s crossbench staffing cuts about politics, not fairness

Independents do not have massive government departments or policy units behind them, and the parliamentary library is simply not capable of providing the instantaneous media and policy advice needed, catered to each electorate, 24 hours a day.

A cut in staff would also reduce legislative scrutiny, and lead to poor policy. This would be a retrograde step for democracy. Particularly when the PM said he wanted to do government better and collaborate.

It was independent MP Helen Haines in the last parliament who successfully moved amendments to legislation that improved outcomes for her regional community and others with the help of her advisers. Haines and her team have also been at the forefront of the federal integrity commission debate.

In consultation with her advisers, Zali Steggall MP moved amendments to protect the identities of sexual harassment and bullying victims in the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces (the Jenkins review).

It was also Steggall and her team of advisers who proposed a private members bill – which had the backing of the Business Council of Australia – to enshrine Australia’s 2050 net-zero emissions target into law. This bill put unprecedented pressure on both major parties to come to the table on net-zero. As a result, Labor will introduce its own climate change bill to parliament next month.

The machine also works in other ways. Party politicians are given speaking and media notes. In the last parliament, these notes came directly from the Prime Minister’s Office.

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It is not valid to argue that electorate office staff can substitute for advisers. Electorate office staff deal with hundreds of emails and inquiries from the community – with complex casework ranging from NDIS claims to aged care and immigration – every day. Currently, they are helping people who are desperately attempting to obtain passports in time to travel. By loading electorate office staff up with policy work, it is the community that will suffer.

Cutting staff in an MP’s office is also in direct contradiction to the spirit of the Jenkins review. Jenkins found that overwork and burnout caused by a lack of staff were directly linked to the poor working culture. Cutting staff would undermine the spirit of the review and cement a negative parliamentary culture.

For me, the fight for a fair allocation of staff is about representing the people of Mackellar to the best of my ability. They vested their trust in me that I would bring a new kind of politics to parliament, one of hope and collaboration, seeking the best for my community and beyond.

I am committed to being a constructive force in parliament, working with the government of the day on issues of national interest to help improve the lives of every Australian. This move by the prime minister undermines my ability to do so.

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