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.

Natalie Barr

When did you first work for the ALP and what was your role?

 

I joined Wayne Swan’s office as an intern in 2003 when he was Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services. I hadn’t had much exposure to politics and got totally hooked. I continued to volunteer in his office while I finished uni. 

 

Two years later, I started a graduate job in the Education Department but writing speeches for Liberal Ministers became frustrating so I jumped at an Assistant Adviser role advertised by Stephen Smith at the start of 2007. Stephen was Shadow Minister for Education and it was the beginning of Kevin Rudd’s ‘Education Revolution’. It was a really intense year leading up to the 2007 election, and education was in the spotlight. I worked with some incredible people in the leader’s office to craft policies for things like a national curriculum and trade training centres that I later got to implement.

 

What did you go onto do after that?

After the 2007 election Julia Gillard was appointed as Education Minister and I moved across to her office the day she was sworn in. I had an amazing few years working as a policy adviser across the portfolio. The part of my job I loved most was supporting the DPM in the Parliamentary chamber, managing the introduction of Bills, working on tactics and briefing her ahead of question time each day. I also spent 9 months as a media adviser during some pretty crazy times with the collapse of the ABC childcare chain and the global financial crisis. 

 

I stayed with Julia after she became PM and worked the 2010 election campaign (and the 17 days of negotiations with the cross-bench before she formed government) before leaving to take a much needed break. 

 

After that I spent some time at a think tank and then moved back into the public service doing a range of roles over the next 10 years - mainly in school education policy. 

What did you find most rewarding career-wise about working for the ALP?

 

I think the best part about working for the ALP was having a job that aligned with my values, allowed me to follow my passions, be surrounded by brilliant people, and to be challenged. It’s a rare combination, and having work with purpose is something that shouldn’t be underestimated. While the job did take over my life and I couldn’t have done it forever, there’s not a day in my career since that I haven’t drawn on the skills, knowledge or networks I developed over the years I was a staffer.

What is a highlight of your time as a staffer?

 

There’s so many highlights it’s hard to pick one, but I loved the opportunity to work on both the 2007 and 2010 elections in campaign headquarters. While it was exhausting, the camaraderie, the sense of being ‘in the room where it happened’ and the adrenalin was an addictive combination. I vividly remember celebrating in the streets in Sydney on election night in 2007 - we felt invincible having been a part of finally bringing the Howard era to an end.

What are you doing now?

I’m currently the Chief Operations Officer for the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at the ANU. It’s chaired by Julia Gillard and is a sister institute to GIWL at King’s College, London. 

 

GIWL’s vision is to help break down barriers to women becoming leaders in any field, and to make sure they are treated fairly when they do. 

 

It’s been such an incredible time to be setting up the institute with the ongoing revelations coming out of Parliament House bringing a heightened sense of urgency to the work. I’ve really valued the chance to work with amazing women in the Elizabeth Reid network to act at both a personal and professional level on improving the workplace at Parliament House. It’s such a great feeling to have that sense of purpose and alignment with my values back - as well as the chance to work again with Julia Gillard and some amazing academics and experts. 

What advice would you give to ALP women staffers?

  • I was exhausted when I left politics and while I didn’t have any issues picking up a job after I left, I could have made more of the experience. 

  • I wanted to do something less intense for a while and focus on starting a family, but in hindsight I set my sights too low and didn’t make the most of my networks. I picked up not far from where I left off in the public service despite all my experience because I thought that was what I needed to do in order to achieve work life balance. 

  • I also had a perverse idea that I was still really young and didn’t want to be seen to be getting ahead because of my connections - I wanted people to take me seriously as a public servant and be seen to earn it (as though working 18 hour days for four years was nothing!). 

  • Having re-climbed the ladder over a number of years I can safely say that paygrade doesn’t necessarily reflect work life balance, and that not drawing on your networks is like tying your hands behind your back.

  • So my advice is not to undersell yourself or shy away from opportunities - especially because of concerns about work life balance. 

  • Women too often avoid opportunities because they think they’re not qualified or it will be too hard, while men just go for it. The trick is not to write yourself out of the picture before you’ve even asked the question. There’s no harm in applying for a job and not getting it, but you’ll never get a job you don’t apply for. If you get offered the job, have an honest conversation about flexible work to help decide if it will work for you and your family.

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