Teals eye Labor seats, saying Albanese deliberately funded them to fail
Three independent MPs say federal Labor is deliberately cutting their staff allocation to damage their electoral chances, while new Kooyong MP Monique Ryan has warned a second wave of independents could target Labor marginal seats in Melbourne at the 2025 election.
The expanded crossbench, which has grown to 12 seats in the lower house, is seeking an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – when he returns from Europe next week – following the decision to slash the number of parliamentary advisers from four per MP to one.
Dr Monique Ryan is the freshly minted member for Kooyong.Credit:Joe Armao
The new MPs will spend Tuesday and Wednesday in Canberra learning the ropes of parliament and on Thursday will be joined by the returning independent MPs and the Greens, where they will discuss their responses to staffing allocations.
Crossbench MPs in the lower house and the Senate, who will still have four electorate office staff, are furious about the move which they say will hamper their ability to do their job and could lead them to vote against government legislation they haven’t had time to assess.
Albanese dug in over the cuts to crossbench staffing allocation on Monday, declaring it wasn’t fair for crossbench politicians to have twice as many 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.
But Ryan, who unseated former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that “the savings involved are minimal” and “it’s a great shame that this is his [Albanese’s] first form of engagement – this is an attack on the crossbench”.
“This measure is aimed at decreasing the effectiveness of the community independents in particular,” she said.
“I do think if the prime minister demonstrated a willingness to work with community independents, that would be less likely to encourage people to feel there is a reason to stand against Labor incumbents.”
In a blunt warning to the Labor MPs in the neighbouring seats of Macnamara and Higgins, Ryan said: “This decision won’t help people like Josh [Burns] and Michelle [Ananda-Rajah] who have slim majorities.”
Sophie Scamps, new MP for Sydney seat Mackellar, wrote for the Herald that Labor “can see the two-party system is failing”.
Sophie Scamps is the member for Mackellar.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.”
Warringah MP Zali Steggall said the decision to cut independents’ staff – while leaving opposition and government numbers untouched – “certainly appears to be a move against the independents”.
“I feel there is a disingenuous argument being run around these measures being about cost-cutting when cross bench staff are on the lowest ranks of payments compared to all other staff.”
The highest salary a political staff working for a crossbench MP can command is $162,375, whereas for an opposition staffer it is $192,407 and in government it is $270,710, according to the current enterprise agreement.
Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie said she had been buoyed by the prime minister’s comments, during and soon after the election, about wanting to respect the contribution of the crossbench and work with them – and the decision to cut staff had dismayed her.
“We have to go to some way towards addressing the staffing issue to repair the relationship with the crossbench,” she said.
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.”
with Katina Curtis
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.
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