Federal independents plan to disrupt Senate after PM cuts staff allowance

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Albanese, who is traveling to Europe ahead of a NATO summit, told reporters on Sunday that independents’ staff allowances were being reduced for ‘fairness and fairness’ and that Crusader MPs should not have more advisers than his MPs backbench.

He said the government had also cut $1.5 million from its own staffing budget, but did not say whether this would lead to fewer advisers.

“Sacrifices have been made at all levels,” Albanese said.

Between 2007 and 2015, under prime ministers Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, crusader federal senators were assigned two advisers.

Independent MPs in the lower house had only one councilor from 2007 to 2010 under Rudd and Gillard. Gillard increased their allocation to three in 2011, then Abbott reduced it to one in 2014.

In 2016 Malcolm Turnbull gave independents in both houses three advisers and in 2020 Scott Morrison increased it to four, along with the usual election office staff.

Under Albanese’s new staffing proposal, crossover members will all retain four lower-paid, less-specialized electoral advisers, who deal with constituency issues, rather than legislation, media and parties stakeholders, meaning they will always have one more staff member than one government backbencher.

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Treasurer Jim Chalmers said it was a ‘common sense’ approach intended to correct the situation where crusader MPs had ‘twice as many staff as a backbench MP in the electorate neighbour”.

” I do not think so [that’s] reasonable or fair,” Chalmers told ABC Insiders Sunday morning.

Education Minister Jason Clare said independent and minor party MPs should continue their work and use the Parliamentary Library, to which Albanese was giving additional resources.

“I think most Australians would say, ‘Well you’ve been elected, now hang in there and get the job done,'” Clare told Sky News.

But Patrick said it was “totally unreasonable” to compare the staffing needs of independent MPs with government backbenchers, who typically don’t draft private members’ bills or receive no phone calls from journalists asking for their position on the legislation.

“Independents do a lot more than backbench MPs, who just follow the party in terms of voting and are gagged from talking to the media,” he said.

Patrick dismissed the government’s claim that the Parliamentary Library would be able to compensate for lost advisers as ‘a ridiculous suggestion’ given that the service was only accessible during working hours and did not provide real-time advice on media, legislative or procedural matters.

Two key Federal Senate MPs, David Pocock and Jacqui Lambie, have threatened to vote against government legislation in response to the cuts.

Albanese said crossbenchers’ public threats to veto the legislation “have not been echoed by those I have spoken to” and that his conversations with independents will continue to be constructive and civil.

Independents in the NSW parliament operate with three election staff and one parliamentary staff.

Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich said that if staffing at the state level was appropriate, “federal electors are three times as large and their staffing should reflect that”.

In Victoria, where independents hold the balance of power in the state’s upper house, crossbenchers are allocated 2.5 electoral office staff and parliamentary advisers are allocated based on the number of party members.

State upper house independent Rod Barton, who has only one parliamentary adviser, said it was “extremely difficult” to respond to voters without an additional adviser and that his federal counterparts were ” rightly angry”.

“It will be extremely difficult for crossbenchers to pass multiple and complex pieces of legislation in the time required,” he said.

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A spokesman for Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party said MPs from independent and minor parties “should have sufficient staff to enable our laws to receive adequate scrutiny”.

“Parliamentary advisers do work that election officials often cannot,” the spokesperson said.

Reason Party Leader Fiona Patten, who has a parliamentary adviser, said she “would like to be given the same resources” as federal senators whose advisers also received higher salaries.

David Limbrick, a Liberal Democrat upper house member from Victoria, said his minor party had three parliamentary advisers, whom he shared with fellow upper house member Tim Quilty.

He said removing his team “would make it very difficult to analyze legislation and make informed decisions”.

with Sumeyya Ilanbey, Lucy Cormack and Rob Harris

Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, opinion and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up for our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.

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