Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says it isn’t fair crossbench politicians want twice as much staff as government backbenchers, especially at a time when other areas of the public service have suffered cuts, leading to blowouts in passport, Centrelink and visa processing times.
Crossbenchers in both the Senate and lower house are angry that the prime minister has said they can have only one adviser, known as personal staff, on top of the four electorate officers every MP is entitled to employ. Previously they were allowed to employ four personal staff.
The Greens have also, in effect, had their allocation reduced, being given the same number of staff despite their party room increasing from nine to 16 MPs.
Albanese said he did not buy the argument that independents and minor party MPs had to do more work than government or opposition representatives.
“This is a very recent phenomenon of an upping of parliamentary staff,” he told ABC radio.
“What concerns me is that [under] the Morrison government – at the same time as they were cutting Centrelink staff, people can’t get passports, visas can’t get processed – the only area of public service that saw an increase in staffing levels appears to have been parliamentary staff.”
Crossbench senators Jacqui Lambie, independent David Pocock and One Nation’s Pauline Hanson have said they will not support government legislation they have not had time to properly understand because of a lack of staff. Their votes are crucial because the government will need backing from the Greens plus one crossbencher to pass legislation the Coalition opposes.
Albanese’s response is that he intends to increase resources in the parliamentary library, which helps all MPs and also produces bill digests explaining every piece of legislation.
In the previous parliament, government ministers and assistant ministers shared a total of 464 staff, and opposition frontbenchers were allocated 104 staff. The only major party backbenchers who were given staff allocations beyond their electorate officers were those who held parliamentary positions, such as whips, or former leaders.
Finance Minister Katy Gallagher said it was common for Labor frontbenchers in opposition – including Albanese – to bring their electorate staff to Canberra for parliamentary work.
“It’s up to the member or senator to determine how they use their staff. But staff attached to that person have to do a range of work, and they work hard,” she said.
“I just don’t cop this line that well, you know, ‘it’s because they do more work’. Every member of parliament does work. Every member of parliament sits on committees, every member of parliament looks at legislation.”
Gallagher said the government had reduced its staffing bill by about $1.5 million compared with the previous ministry and there was an overall reduction in the number of advisers across parliament.
Electorate officers earn between $56,067 and $87,645 depending on their level. Salaries for personal staff in non-government offices range from $56,067 for secretaries up to $136,607 for the highest-level advisers. Senior ministerial staffers can earn up to $270,710.
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.