A- A A+

Job-sharing could make for a more inclusive parliament

3 Comments
John Warhurst |  29 March 2017

 

The announcement by Kate Ellis, the 39 year old federal Labor MP for Adelaide, of her retirement at the next election to be with her young son came as a surprise, though SA Premier Jay Wetherill was amazed that she had managed to balance her conflicting responsibilities for so long.

Kate EllisEllis explained: 'He'll need to be in Adelaide [after starting school]. And I will need to be in Canberra if I'm the member for Adelaide, and that's a really big problem for me and for our family.'

But she was worried by the potential wider implications of her decision. 'I would hate for my legacy to be sending a message that you can't be a young woman and go into Federal Parliament because I've made this choice.'

Several Fairfax journalists were dismayed. Stephanie Peatling and Annabel Crabb issued a challenge: 'It's not people who should have to change to make their lives fit politics as we know it. It's politics as we know it that should change,' said Peatling.

'Ordinary workplaces around the country are obliged to change in order to survive and keep good employees — Why not parliament?' wrote Crabb. 'The lesson from Kate Ellis should not be why did this woman leave, but how could we make people like her stay?'

The immediate issue is gender balance. If many women with school-age children (babies and pre-school children travel more easily, supported by parliamentary childcare) thought life as a federal parliamentarian was impossibly conflicted, it would be a major blow to the aspiration of 50:50 representation. Many would be excluded if representation was left to childless and older women.

The wider context is all types of diversity in parliament. Behind much popular disaffection with politics today is the belief that politicians are a separate breed unlike the rest of us. They have become career, professional politicians detached from day-to-day concerns.

Changing the demands on a parliamentarian to ensure greater work-life balance has proceeded slowly on matters such as childcare in the parliamentary building and the right of MPs to breastfeed a child in the parliamentary chamber. Yet these are only solutions for women MPs with very young children.

 

"The idea of a part-time MP goes back to the time when male MPs, predominantly from privileged backgrounds, combined parliamentary work with another profession or occupation."

 

There is one radical possibility worth considering. Dr Rosie Campbell of Birkbeck University of London and Professor Sarah Childs of the University of Bristol support job-sharing by MPs. This involves transferring an idea from the public and private sectors into politics. Prospective MPs would stand for election on a shared basis, dividing the pay and the responsibilities (electorate and chamber work).

Campbell and Childs see this idea as a reaction to 'the professionalisation of politics and the narrowing of the political class'. The value of job-sharing, they say, is also that it makes the symbolic point that 'being a representative is a job not just for the professional or unencumbered politician but a job open to all'. The possible encumbrances might be job, family responsibilities of all kinds or disability.

The idea of a part-time MP goes back to the time when male MPs, predominantly from privileged backgrounds, combined parliamentary work with another profession or occupation. It is turning back the clock of professionalisation to retain some of the best aspects of the amateur MP who continues to live and work in their local community.

Many voters regard the system as broken anyway and many MPs and prospective MPs seek greater life-work balance. The problems are lesser in some state parliaments, but rural MPs in all parliaments face the same travel demands and absence from home and family as federal MPs like Ellis.

Job-sharing MPs would face obvious problems as in other spheres. One may be foregoing promotion as job-sharing the role of a minister or shadow minister is even harder to visualise than being an MP. However there is much to be said for shaking up anything which threatens to make parliament less inclusive.

 


John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University.

 



Comments

Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Submitted comments

Nights away in Canberra isn’t the problem but nights and weekends out of the house meeting your electorate. But aren’t those the times your domestic partner can be home?

Roy Chen Yee 30 March 2017

The present system makes politics a waste of time and resources. Its time the role of politician was replaced with on-line surveys on all political issues, put to the public by the media, and the result counted by computers in a fraction of the time and the cost of elections. No need for parliaments and politicians. The national debt could be paid back tomorrow and true democracy (not party ideology) restored.

Cam BEAR 31 March 2017

Job sharing is certainly worth considering, not only for women but also for men with families, if we value a father's role in child rearing. Too many wives of politicians have to do all the child rearing and the politicians miss out on their families. growing up.

Cathy Cleary 31 March 2017

Similar articles

Aboriginal custody inquiry means little without action

7 Comments
Kate Galloway | 14 February 2017

Dark skinned hands grip barsThe Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Indigenous incarceration in Australia recognises and validates widely held concerns. On the other hand, it also represents the abject failure of successive governments around the country to pay heed to what we do know about the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, including the failure to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.


Close the gap between public and private mental health care

9 Comments
Naomi Fryers | 10 February 2017

Anxious looking womanIn my mid-20s, I sectioned under the Mental Health Act into the public inpatient system. The experience is so etched in my mind that it wasn't until recently, half a decade on, that I finally managed to shake the residual anxiety. A single admission to the public mental health system saw me crippled by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. By contrast, I've never had an inpatient admission to a private psychiatric hospital where I haven't been discharged in comparative good health.


Catholic voices against runaway capitalism

20 Comments
Michael Walker | 20 February 2017

Finance Catholique by Antoine Cuny de la VerryèreThe presidency of Donald Trump should bring a renewed focus on the dangers of unbridled capitalism. The Catholic Church has a rich trove of teachings on the subject that have been missing in action for the past 30 years. Now is the time for a well-articulated Christian message addressing such issues as widening wealth inequality fuelled by stagnant wage growth, the privatisation of public services, the financialisation of the economy (which fuels both of those trends), and tax justice.


It's more than a game to LGBTI football fans

3 Comments
Neve Mahoney | 08 February 2017

Rainbow flag and AFL footballsLast year, I attended the AFL Pride Match with the LGBTI youth group Minus18. As I walked to Etihad Stadium, there was something profoundly emotional about seeing rainbows mix with football colours. A huge part of my childhood was no longer alienated from my lived reality. Yet as the game went on like any other, the whole experience recast itself. I felt more and more conspicuous, and I wondered how safe I'd feel if I were watching alone, waving a rainbow flag.


Nazi punch is a non-violence red herring

7 Comments
Ann Deslandes | 06 February 2017

Richard Spencer punchedThe recent viral footage of 'alt-right' spokesperson Richard Spencer taking a punch to the chops caused considerable debate. There is no doubting the moral clarity that non-violent resistance achieved in the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King and the Indian independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi, and the real result of justice for African American and Indian people. When it comes to the odd individual act of public pushing and shoving, though, asking 'Is it okay?' is a red herring.