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The Albanese government will spend $159 million over four years to give every MP an extra member of staff to cope with their increasing workloads due to larger constituencies and the growing demands of social media.
The measure was announced in Tuesday’s budget as a partial response to former sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’ review of federal parliament’s workplace culture, which highlighted the long and irregular hours, high levels of stress and significant workload political staffers face.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese denied that the court case brought by former staffer Sally Rugg (right) against independent MP Monique Ryan (left) led to the increased staffing for MPs that was announced in the budget.Credit: Jason South/Alex Ellinghausen
The decision follows a $100,000 settlement reached by activist Sally Rugg with the Commonwealth and independent MP Monique Ryan over her dismissal, after Rugg refused to work what she argued were unreasonable hours. There was no admission of fault from Ryan or the Commonwealth.
The staffing boost means all 151 lower house MPs and 76 senators will be able to increase their electorate office workforce from four to five people. Any single member of any MP’s office will now also be able to travel to Canberra for parliamentary sittings, rather than just one nominated member of staff the office.
On Wednesday, Albanese denied the increase in staff numbers was a direct response to the Rugg case. He said increasing the number of staff was the right thing to do because of the growing demands on MPs and the increasing number of constituents they represent.
“It is about the number of constituents. And secondly, it’s about the nature of the work. Previously, you would get letters in the mail when I was first elected. Now, you have emails, you have social media, you have so much pressure on electorate staff,” he told ABC Radio National.
“There used to be 80,000 people in the electorate when I was first elected. [NSW MP] Mike Freelander has almost 150,000 people. So, it’s one added pressure which is there because there hasn’t been an increase in … the number of electorates.”
On Tuesday night, Treasurer Jim Chalmers said political offices faced “quite extraordinary workloads” and that “we have seen well publicised court cases”; an apparent reference to the Rugg case.
But Albanese said political staff faced pressure across the board, “and one of the things that court case was about, of course, was pressure on staff of members of parliament. So, that is why the treasurer made that comment.”
Electorate office staff deal with members of the general public who seek help from their federal MPs on matters ranging from visa problems to Centrelink inquiries to lobbying for school funding. They can also assist MPs with parliamentary business. They earn between $56,067 and $87,645, plus overtime, depending on the band at which they are employed.
Advisers are better paid than electorate staff, but are not employed for government and opposition backbench MPs.
Last June, crossbench MPs were furious when Prime Minister Anthony Albanese slashed the number of advisers they had from four down to one, reversing a decision of the Morrison government.
The budget also allocated an extra $25.6 million over four years to increase office space, undertake building repairs, pay for more parliamentary committees and upgrade IT.
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