Why Australia Needs Part-Time MPs
There are times when it becomes necessary to lead by example and do something boldly different.
Now is the Australian parliament’s time to do just that: by introducing the role of the part-time Cabinet Minister.
Now, before anyone else makes the joke, I already know the first wise-cracker is going to comment by saying they already thought that was a part-time role.
Before we all ROFL, I have to go somewhat against the grain here. Despite every measure of trust, such as the Edelman Barometer, revealing that trust between the public and politicians is at an all-time low, I still have some faith.
Much of politics needs fixing, but I absolutely have faith that some of our politicians, including Kelly O’Dwyer, who resigned at the weekend, work damned hard.
They just work damned hard within a largely broken system.
But part of what’s broken is the working hours.
In addition to representing local constituents, managing multiple portfolios, managing staffers, keeping abreast of the 24/7 news cycle, doing media interviews and splitting time between Canberra and their hometown, some are also juggling parenthood. Even the most hardened #auspol cynic will surely concede: that’s a lot for one person.
It isn’t just Kelly O’Dwyer. There’s a pattern here. MPs Kate Ellis and Tim Hammond both quit politics recently citing the same reason as O’Dwyer: to be more present parents to their respective kids.
Being an MP without a cabinet portfolio, if done properly, is also a lot for one person.
The time has come for the job-share MP. There’d be many benefits to this.
First, it’d free up both dads like Hammond and mums like O’Dwyer and Ellis to do the work they really want to do, and that they’re good at.
Whether you agree with her politics or not, O’Dwyer was just the sort of person we needed in our parliament and is part of the reason for that faith I mentioned I still have.
Let me tell you an anecdote to demonstrate why.
When I was Director of Communications at Change.org, a dad whose daughters were abused by a paedophile started a petition on the site, aimed at Revenue Minister O’Dwyer.
“The ex-Bega Cheese CEO, Maurice Van Ryn, sexually assaulted my children over a number of years,” the desperate dad wrote in his petition plea. “This predator was sentenced to 18 years jail -- but the former multi-millionaire CEO is using an absurd law that means he can avoid paying victims compensation from money sitting in his self-managed superannuation account.”
I travelled to Canberra with a big red box containing more than 20,000 signatures of support for this ask, so no victims would be left out of pocket for a lifetime of psychologists costs after being sexually abused. Kelly O’Dwyer met with the father, read through the petition comments, listened and acted. She responded to his signers.
In future, predators will pay -- not squirrel away potential victims’ compensation in their Super.
This is exactly what we want our politicians to do: listen to the people they represent, and act on their behalf.
But by creating a role so demanding and time-consuming, we’re setting them up to fail. We're locking out talented people. They have no time to do anything other than be a politician. Not a parent. Not a fully rounded person in the real world.
In the two-party system we seem lumbered with, toeing the party line -- no matter what any MP says -- is part of the job, especially if they’re eying promotion. So that makes this a totally job share-able role, even for two different people in the same party.
This isn’t just beneficial for parents. It’s also beneficial for us: we might get politicians who’ve actually ventured out onto the streets, been to a festival, taken MDMA like Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, had other jobs and therefore aren’t hopelessly out of touch with the reality of people’s lives.
It'll also promote more work/life balance, which we all desperately need, so clear-headed decisions are made, people are more chilled, are maybe, just maybe, mud-slinging reduces between the two parties so they can actually prioritise and focus on making decent policy.
Job-sharing is often viewed as the domain of the working parent. But it should be open to everyone. This'll allow more diversity in work. Many roles advertised as full time are off-putting to those who freelance in the gig economy and prefer a profile career to the same thing every day.
It could also help fix the problem of lack of female representation in parliament, although a working parent is obviously the domain for dads as well as mums.
If MPs began to job-share, the days of advertising ‘full time only’ roles would be over. We’d start to see people enjoying diversity, work/life balance, parenthood and the benefits of not being constantly stressed, overworked and bored out of their minds.
I’d work damned hard towards that if I were an MP.