Posted 19/07/2022 by Cathy Madden
The newly elected crossbench has had their personal employee allocations reduced from 4 to 1, based on recent media reporting. The Government argues that the additional staffing for the crossbenchers is unfair to other backbenchers and a signal of budgetary restraint. This flagpost discusses the regulation and history of this staffing allocation.
These personal employees are employed under Part III of the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984 (MOP(S) Act). Additionally, part IV of the MOP(S) Act provides senators and members with 4 electorate officers, while members with large electorates receive an additional allocation.
The MOP(S) Act gives the Prime Minister significant discretion to determine the employment arrangements for MOP(S) staff. This includes the discretionary allocation of personal staff to Ministers, the Opposition, office-holders, former leaders, leaders of minority parties, recognized parties and independents. Minority parties are required to have at least 5 parliamentary members, based on the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017 definition. The Greens gained parliamentary party status from 1 July 2008.
The Prime Minister, using his discretion, allocates additional staff members to minor parties and the crossbenches (parliamentarians not affiliated with a major political party). In 2014 Mr Palmer’s request for parliamentary party status when the Palmer United Party had 3 senators and 1 House member was not accepted.
The number of staffers provided to crossbenchers could be seen to relate to their position in the balance of power (p. 49). When four Independents and the sole Greens member of the House of Representatives held the balance of power after the 2010 federal election, they were allocated two additional staff each to match existing allocation to Senator Xenophon (Independent) and Senator Madigan (Democratic Labour Party). Following the 2013 election the eight minor party and Independent Senators holding the balance of power from 2014 were allocated two staff while crossbenchers in the House were allocated I personal staff member.
History of the allocation
Since 2004, at the beginning of each Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee Estimates, the Department of Finance tables a summary of Personal Employee Positions. The following table provides an aggregated list of these summary reports.
From 2004 to late 2009 parliamentarians not affiliated with a major party were allocated 1 personal employee at the assistant adviser level, except for the leaders of the Australian Democrats and the Greens who were both allocated 2 personal staff (assistant advisers).
A Review of Government Staffing in 2009 made no recommendations relating to personal staff for independents.
The Special Minister of State announced on 28 September 2010 an increase to ministerial and parliamentary staff. Parliamentarians not affiliated with a major political party each had 2 personal employee positions (assistant adviser and executive assistant).
By 2016 each senator not affiliated with a major party and the leader of a recognised party had 3 personal positions each (2 assistant adviser and 1 executive assistant). Each independent member or member of a minority party in the House of Representatives had 1 personal position each (1 executive assistant). In 2017 the numbers were equalised for the Senate and House crossbenchers (1 adviser and 2 assistant advisers).
In the 2016–17 MYEFO the Government provided $35.8 million over four years from 2016–17 to increase the personal staffing allocations to crossbench, opposition, Greens and Government parliamentarians on the basis it would allow them to more effectively manage their workload and represent the interests of their constituents.
In 2018 and 2019 parliamentarians not affiliated with a major political party and the leader of a recognised party were each allocated 3 personal staff (1 adviser and 2 assistant advisers). From October 2019 parliamentarians not affiliated with a major party and the leader of a recognised party received 4 personal positions each (2 advisers and 2 assistant advisers).
Table: Personal positions allocated by the Prime Minister to minor parties and independents
Source: Department of Finance, Personal employee positions, various years
*Under section 3 of the MOP(S) Act ‘relevant office’ includes (f) an office of leader or deputy leader, in a House of the Parliament, of a recognized political party (other than an office that is held by a person who also holds an office referred to in any of the preceding paragraphs of this definition)