‘Slap in the face’: independents furious at PM’s decision to cut advisory staff from four to one | Australian politics

Furious independent MPs and senators accused the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, of a “slap in the face” after he slashed their staff allocation in one of his first dealings with the newly expanded crossbench.

One Nation has threatened to reject all government legislation as their “default position”, while crucial Senate vote David Pocock called the decision “extremely damaging” to the relationship with the crossbench.

“It is beyond disappointing that Anthony Albanese would try to hobble us like this so that we will not have the capacity to do the job we were elected to do,” independent MP Sophie Scamps tweeted.

In a letter sent to House of Representatives and Senate crossbenchers on Friday, Albanese – who, as prime minister, gets to set staff allocations across parliament – said he proposed to offer just “one additional full-time staff member at the adviser classification, in addition to your four electorate staff”.

Under the previous Coalition government, crossbenchers got up to four advisers and electorate staff. Advisers are generally tasked with managing legislation, speeches, media, research, and parliamentary issues, while electorate officers deal with local constituent issues.

The letter says the government will “increase resourcing” to the parliamentary library, saying it can assist parliamentarians with advice and research.

The crossbench staff allocation had increased under the previous Coalition government. Albanese’s decision takes staffing back to what it was before the Coalition agreed to expand the budget after negotiations with the crossbench.

Australian politics

The decision blindsided many on the crossbench, who had been optimistic about further expanding their staff numbers. The day after his election, Albanese committed to “have a good relationship with people across the crossbench” on top of Labor pledges to “fix” parliament.

Multiple new independent MPs and senators were elected to parliament in May, including Pocock, Monique Ryan, Allegra Spender, Kylea Tink, Kate Chaney, and Tammy Tyrrell of the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN).

Several crossbench MPs declined to comment on Friday evening, but the independent offices were locked in discussions for much of the afternoon after Albanese’s letter.

Sources said many were “appalled” and “outraged” at the decision. Others claimed it would foster “ill will” and accused Albanese of a “political play” after a growing vote for independents and Greens at the election.

The Greens will not be affected by the decision, as they have more guaranteed staff due to the number of MPs the party has in parliament.

A Labor spokesperson said staff allocation was “reviewed and re-allocated following every election”.

A One Nation spokesperson said the party was working with other crossbenchers to retain the previous number of staff, saying it would be much harder to scrutinize legislation with a reduced office properly.

The spokesperson suggested that if crossbenchers didn’t have time to consider bills properly, then “the default position that every independent and minor party should take should be to reject government legislation”.

Labor has a majority in the House of Representatives but will need the support of the Greens and at least one more crossbencher, or the Coalition, to pass legislation in the Senate.

Pocock, seen as a crucial and potentially reliable vote for Labor on progressive legislation like climate reforms, said he was upset by the decision.

“This decision by the prime minister is extremely disappointing and damaging to the relationship with the crossbench,” he told the Canberra Times. Guardian Australia has contacted Pocock’s office for comment.

Lambie’s office said she received the letter just an hour before her father’s funeral on Friday afternoon and was livid at the decision.

“To hear on the day of Jacqui’s father’s funeral that three staff members, some of whom are there with Jacqui helping her at the funeral, will be fired because the prime minister doesn’t like competition, is an absolute slap in the face,” a Jacqui Lambie Network spokesperson said.

Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morning

The JLN said expanding the parliamentary library would not offset the loss of individual staff.

“We won’t have the same ability to represent our communities, and the diversity of those communities, because the prime minister has made this unilateral decision to cut staff,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s an impossible choice, to choose between taking electoral officers off their jobs and putting them in policy and media roles to help get legislation or choose to not be across legislation to help constituents. It can’t be done.”

Former independent senator Rex Patrick, who lost his seat at the election, tweeted that the staff allocation was “unreasonable”.

“They can only be effective with proper staff allocations,” Patrick said. “[Albanese] knows this and is nobbling the crossbench. While it’s in Labor’s interest to do so, it’s not in the public interest.”

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.