Albanese’s crossbench staffing cuts about politics, not fairness

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Albanese’s crossbench staffing cuts about politics, not fairness

It’s a curious tactical move for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, while he is in Europe mending bridges, to begin a war over staffing with the crossbench in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Last week, the prime minister sent a letter outlining his intention to reduce our adviser allocation from four to one. This is not about budgetary cutbacks or a notion of so-called fairness between staffing of backbench MPs and crossbenchers.

Sophie Scamps at a polling booth in Mackellar on election day.

Sophie Scamps at a polling booth in Mackellar on election day.Credit:Kate Geraghty

This is a political move to consolidate power in the two-party system and is designed to ultimately fend off potential independent challengers to the Labor Party at the next election by making current independents less effective. The casualties will be good government, collaboration and better policy.

Labor can see the two-party system ailing. A record number of people voted for minor parties and independents at the recent federal election. This has clearly sent a shock through senior leadership of both major parties.

The victory of Dai Le in Fowler – defeating a former NSW premier in Kristina Keneally – would have sent a particularly potent message to the Labor Party.


Senior government ministers are rationalising the staffing shift as being about equity between backbenchers and crossbenchers. This is not a fair comparison. The reason crossbenchers are afforded more staff than a government backbencher is because they do not have the party machine behind them.

For example, backbenchers do not have to analyse the several hundred pieces of legislation that come before parliament. They get told where and when to vote by an electronic pager.

An independent must examine each bill – and the dozens of amendments – on their merits, consult widely with stakeholders and the community to define a position that enhances the legislation and outcomes for the nation. All while handling time-sensitive media inquiries.


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) sparked by the courageous Brittany Higgins.

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.


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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