Electorate staff: political campaigners or public servants?

By Tom Ravlic

July 21, 2022

parliament house victoria
Operation Watts was the inquiry into branch stacking and misuse of public funds in the Victorian elections. (Image: Adobe/FiledIMAGE)

Recommendations to restrict electorate staff from participating in campaigns to re-elect their employer raise questions about where a new generation of political campaigners will come from, according to a former deputy campaign director for the Australian Labor Party.

Director of RedBridge Group Kos Samaras was involved in election campaigns for 14 years with the ALP.

Samaras said the recommendations released on Wednesday by the Victorian Ombudsman and the Independent Broad-based Anticorruption Commission relating to the use of electorate staff in campaigns will reshape political campaigning.

The report into branch stacking and the use of staff funded by the taxpayers were used for party political work rather than exclusively to serve the electorate or the minister on matters of government.

A series of recommendations were made in the report on Operation Watts, which was the name given to the branch stacking and misuse of public funds inquiry, that require various codes of conduct to ensure they prohibit staff from doing party political work.

Recommendation 19 is an example of such a recommendation.

“The Ministerial Staff Code of Conduct be reviewed to explicitly prohibit party-specific work from being undertaken during the course of a ministerial staff member’s employment,” the recommendation says.

Samaras said in a Twitter post that there would be broader consequences to the recommendations put forward.

“It will be interesting to see how both major parties, even the Greens, skill up the next generation of campaign professionals in Victoria. The main recruitment pool has been wiped out,” he said.

He said that IBAC recommendations are important but the recommendations that prohibit staff working to ‘re-elect their boss’ would kill off campaigning expertise in political parties.

A further change recommended by the two integrity authorities in the report was that the secretary of the Department of Parliamentary Services be the employer of electorate officers and that presiding officers and the Department of Parliamentary Services review arrangements for supervision and management arrangements for electorate officers.


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