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Albanian goes against recent history with cross-bank cuts

by Anthony L. Gonzalez

MPs warned that a fight over their staff allowances threatens to undermine Anthony Albanese’s relations with an expanded cross-bank and his reform agenda.

The government notified MPs last week of plans to cut Parliament’s staff budget, a decision that hit the hardest for MPs who are now entitled to one instead of four political advisers.

With the prime minister out of the country, cross-bank senators warned that the decision would affect their ability to vote on bills – a stark warning as the government needs at least some support to pass legislation.

“You want to be careful and make friends, not enemies,” said Bob Kattter, an experienced independent MP from Northern Queensland and friend of Mr. Albanese. “It doesn’t seem very smart to kick it off by making not one but 16 enemies in the bloody Parliament who is not on the side of the Liberal party.Albanian goes against recent history with cross-bank cuts

“Each parliament consisted of a few people.”

Additional Assignments

But the government said Monday it was acting to restore balance in workforce arrangements that have become unequal over the past decade.

All MPs get four voter staff responsible for contacting their voters.

Until Mr. Albanese’s decision, they had four additional advisers. MPs had budgeted for two advisers and two assistant advisers who would focus on matters before Parliament or involving the media.

Providing special dispensation for members of the Cross Bank dates back to the minority government of 2010. As part of a deal with Rob Oakeshott, independent MPs Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor was assigned two advisers.

Tony Abbott cut that fee as part of a general push for austerity.

Shortly after Malcolm Turnbull secured the premiership, he wrote to the other bankers advising them that he assign them an additional staff (relations with the upper house had grown tense).

“Independent senators have a lot of detailed policy and legislative information to consider, often without the day-to-day support of the major political parties,” Turnbull wrote.

During the most recent Parliament, the number of advisers reached its current level.

Restore balance

Labor says the move will help restore balance in staff allocations.

Assistant ministers have only two additional staff members besides their electorate, despite having partial responsibility for a portfolio.

Backbench MPs do not receive additional staff.

“I don’t really understand this rule, you know, ‘it’s because they do more work,'” Treasury Secretary Katy Gallagher said. “Every MP works. Every MP sits on committees, every MP looks at legislation.”

The government believes it saved $1.5 million on its own personnel costs.

But cross-bench MPs are not taking the cuts lightly, and in the upper house, incoming Senator David Pocock said the government’s agenda would be slowed down by reducing the number of advisers.

The Greens have also been privately furious about staffing. The party believes that with new arrangements, they will have an effective 40 percent reduction in workforce or the same number of employees they previously had to advise a heavily expanded banquet hall.

Labor has a majority of one seat in the House of Representatives.

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