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.

Jamila Rizvi

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

I was eighteen years old and employed two days a week in the office of local ACT MLA Mary Porter. I remember being incredibly nervous on my first day and drinking lots of water because my mouth was really dry. That meant multiple requests to leave the office and go to the bathroom during my initial three hours of employment which must have seemed a little odd.

It was there that I met the incomparable Alys Graham (now Gagnon) who taught me how to properly lay out constituent correspondence and make the most efficient mobile office volunteer spreadsheets. I remain, ever in her debt. Alys became one of my dearest friends. I was emcee at her wedding and we’ve worked together in and out of politics since.

 

What did you go onto do after that?

I worked in political offices throughout university, first casually and then in 2008 I joined Kevin Rudd’s staff full time. It was a wild ride going from fourth year law student who usually rolled out of bed at 10.00am to the Prime Minister’s Office. I learned more about the world of work and politics in the year that followed than I have at any other time in my career. Often, the hard way.

 

Next I moved to Kate Ellis’ ministerial office, where I properly found my feet and started to feel more confident as a staffer. It was there that I realised my talents were better suited to media than policy, mostly because I am a natural communicator and terrible with detail. Then in 2012 I decided it was time to try working outside of politics for the first time as an adult and took a chance on the editor’s gig at a little start-up called Mamamia.

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

My work remains very much connected to politics. I enjoy providing political commentary on television, radio and for the newspapers. Sometimes I flatter myself that the commentary is influential from time to time; perhaps helping a handful of readers figure out how they think or feel about an issue. That influence, however, is piddling compared to the time I spent advising Labor in government.

The single most rewarding part of being a Labor adviser was the work we got to do; the policy we had implemented that had a real impact on people’s lives. Whether it was money for major infrastructure projects like the Adelaide Oval upgrade, or improvements to the educational quality and safety of childcare centres, I got to play a – admittedly very small - part in hugely important reforms. I also made some truly excellent friends along the way.

What is a highlight of your time as a staffer?

There are lots of exciting, glitzy moments that stand out. Meeting US President Barack Obama when he came to Australia, visiting Zurich with Minister Ellis to launch Australia’s failed World Cup bid, and entertaining countless very cool people while they waited in the Prime Minister’s reception. They’re the stories that you get to dine out on for the rest of your life.

 

But the more meaningful highlight was the people I worked for and with. I remain friends with so many fellow staffers, and also MPs and senators from my years working for the federal government. I’m old enough now that I am watching some of those fellow staffers become MPs and senators too. It’s both exciting and affirming to see these smart, capable and visionary people I knew as twenty-somethings become members of parliament.

What are you doing now?

I have a portfolio career, which means I’m doing a whole bunch of fun stuff while avoiding a grown-up job. I’m Chief Creative Officer at the Nine Network’s Future Women, where I host podcasts, write columns, interview fascinating people and generally run the creative side of the show. I’m also co-hosting a new daily news podcast called The Briefing and writing books for Penguin and Puffin. In between those things I have a 5-year-old and a bunch of charity projects and ambassadorships that keep me busy.

What advice would you give to staffers today?

Drink it all in. While there are a handful of lifetime staffers about (and I tip my hat to them), most of us can only do the job for a limited period of time. Whether that’s 12 months or 12 years make sure you keep your ears and eyes open, and always be learning. Being a staffer requires you to be quick, clever, empathetic, energetic, strategic and ceaselessly optimistic. Each of those are skills that will stand you in good stead in life, not just in work. Keep being better every day, and enjoy it.

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