Where are they now?
Since our patron, Elizabeth Reid, became the first Women’s Adviser ever appointed by a Prime Minister in 1973, there have been literally thousands of women employed as staffers of ALP parliamentarians and party offices.
In our ‘Where are they now?’ series, now you can learn what some of these fabulous women have gone on to do in their professional (and personal) lives.
When did you first work for the ALP and what was your role?
I applied for a job in Kim Beazley’s office in 1999 after I saw an ad in the paper! I have never heard of anyone else getting a political job via those means. I had volunteered on State and Federal campaigns in South Australia and a national organiser, Cathie King, gave me advice on my application and was my referee which I think helped David Epstein, then CoS to Kim and later to Kevin Rudd, decide to employee me. I was a Media Assistant Adviser which meant doing research for the media Advisers and the Tactics Committee.
What did you go onto do after that?
That job was the beginning of ten years as a staffer. Over that time I covered govt and opposition, state and Federal politics When we lost the 2001 election I stayed to work for Simon Crean, then joined the NSW Govt after the 2003 election for five years ending up in Morris Iemma’s office after he became the Premier. I left after we won the 2007 election to become Tony Burke’s Chief of Staff in the Rudd Government. I never intended to stay that long, and kept saying I would leave once it no longer felt like an honour and a privilege. That day never came, but with the birth of my daughter in 2009 a two cities life became impractical and I left to work in the not for profit sector.
What did you find most rewarding career-wise about working for the ALP?
Definitely the people. Being able to believe in what you do for a job is a tremendous privilege, and I have been fortunate to spend my career working for mission based organisations.
It’s also about knowing each day you are working to make the place better. Tony Burke used to say “How did we make Australia better today?” And there was always something we could say in response. One of my best experiences was when he called me from the Kimberley while I was on mat leave to report he was following up on a trip we’d taken together about 12 months prior. He was visiting a small Indigenous farming initiative we’d set up and was now employing people and exporting to the southern states, and he thought I’d like to hear about it. Sometimes it is the small things, as well as the big ones, that motivate you.
What is a highlight of your time as a staffer?
I remember being in Federal Parliament for the National Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 and remembering that is why I work for the Labor Party. I also remember nearly missing it because we were madly rushing to get Tony’s Question Time folder completed that day!
I think the opportunity to start as a young staffer meant that I developed a professional peer group of people across the country who share my values. As well as enjoying their support at the time, today those people are my contact book. Smart, hardworking, values-driven people have the most amazing careers, and my network from staffer days continues to pay off professionally and personally.
What are you doing now?
Ten years after leaving I am once again a Chief of Staff, this time to a Vice-Chancellor at The University of Sydney. While 2020 is definitely challenging in higher ed, and a CoS role at a University quite different from a political office, it’s a great job and I love working here. I have had terrific jobs in media and government relations at both the National Heart Foundation and the University prior to this role and at this mid-career stage don’t regret any of my work choices, which I imagine makes me in a lucky minority.
What advice would you give to staffers today?
Make it work for you. I saw, and still see, a lot of young staffers working so hard without getting the career traction that is genuinely available. It is not a disservice to the labour movement to ask for learning opportunities, to seek out chances to be mentored and mentor others. Learning in staffer roles is so informal and the life so fast-paced, but it does exist. Thinking about who has a job you might like one day, or what sort of role you’d like in a post staffer world, and take the time to have a coffee or put your hand up for a job that will help you get there. Almost no-one in politics has time for formal performance feedback or staff development, but lots of people say yes if asked to help out a colleague.
And of course, get your network of women friends. Mine were my saviours in the early days federally when there were very few women in senior roles. A group of us would get together on Thursday evenings in Parliament weeks to wash off the politics, eat pasta and watch Dawson’s Creek. Those friendships persisted despite election losses and leadership challenges, and many in that group remain my closest friends. And when I moved to NSW I had two women who really helped me navigate the complexities of a thrice elected government with established ways of working. Their insight and support was invaluable.