Campaign to job-share MP role in federal parliament

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LUCY BRADLOW, INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE:  We know that what we are proposing is different but breaking down barriers for representation takes change.

NAS CAMPANELLA, REPORTER:  Politics like we’ve’ never seen it before.

LUCY BRADLOW:  Parliament has become an increasingly exclusive arena, reserved for those with the pedigree, the finances and support systems that allows them to be full-time, always on and available.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  Lucy Bradlow and Bronwyn Bock have launched their campaign to become first ever job share candidates at the next federal election.

BRONWEN BOCK, INDEPENDENT CANDIDATE:  See what we’ve got on the ingredient list.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  Many mothers with three young kids wouldn’t dream of putting their hand up to be a politician.

BRONWEN BOCK:  This is a half a cup.

Right now, if you’re not willing to work full-time, be always on, always available, working 70 hours a week, for 22 weeks in Canberra, we can’t participate in the current model without a change in the system, this is not something I would consider.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  Investment banker Bronwen Bock regularly came up against the challenge of combining part-time work with leadership roles when she returned from maternity leave.

BRONWEN BOCK:  And that’s why I’m now working on a campaign to make it possible to job-share in federal parliament.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  But it is an idea that doesn’t just appeal to working parents.

LUCY BRADLOW:  It’s not just about women, it is about a huge range of people that could make parliament at all levels more diverse, more inclusive and more representative.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  Political communications specialist and former lawyer Lucy Bradlow says she is keen to have a better work/life balance.

LUCY BRADLOW:  I want to be able to be there for my friends and family when they need me, and I want to be able to make time for the things in my life that bring me joy.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  The idea stems from the experience of two women who applied to stand as joint candidates for the UK general election in 2015, but it was rejected by the courts.

PROF. KIM RUBENSTEIN, CONSTITUTIONAL LAWYER:  But the judge made a point of saying, “But this is an excellent policy idea and Parliament should look at it.”

And I began thinking about this within our own constitutional system because we have a different constitutional system and I looked at our Electoral Act and it is my view that it is possible for two people to nominate to be the representative for an electorate.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  Professor Kim Rubenstein has been lobbying politicians to support job-sharing for parliamentarians.

KIM RUBENSTEIN:  It is very profound, I think, in what it represents because it would enable such a wide range of people to consider for the first time that they could themselves be representatives.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  And she wants the Electoral Act amended to allow more than one person’s name to be on the nomination form.

KIM RUBENSTEIN:  But remember, the electors still have to vote you in, so it’s not as if this opportunity is going to force job-sharing upon us.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  The lifelong friends plan to run as an independent candidate in the Melbourne seat of Higgins which they’ve called home for many years.

The electorate had been a Liberal stronghold since it was created in 1949 but changed hands to Labor at the last election.

LUCY BRADLOW:  We’re running on action on climate change, help for the ever-increasing cost-of-living crisis, and integrity in politics.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  The two have been meeting members of the community in a series of kitchen-table conversations to explain how this would practically work.

COMMUNITY MEMBER:  How could you cope with the other parliamentarians who threw muck at you and said, “You are a half-time politician?”

BRONWEN BOCK:  We don’t plan to do the job half-time is what I would say to them. We will be together full-time members for Higgins.

LUCY BRADLOW:  When I think about people slinging mud at us, I think it’s not just me that they are slinging mud at, they are slinging mud at both of us and it’s quite comforting to know it is actually two people.

LUCY BRADLOW:  Our plan is we will do one week on, one week off with a handover at the end of the week.

There will be a representative for Higgins and that representative will always be there to answer the needs of the community.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  How will the pay and entitlements be divided?

BRONWEN BOCK:  The pay and entitlements will be split down the middle.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  The pair say fundamentally they have the same views, but a pre-written conflict resolution strategy will help them navigate disagreements.

BRONWEN BOCK:  We will have an organised system in place, organised conversations and mechanisms to work through that, as you would in any other corporate environment.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  They are hopeful voters in the seat of Higgins will embrace the idea.

HIGGINS VOTER:  I’m one of many who is a bit jaded with politics as it stands at the moment and I’m open to something is new.

HIGGINS VOTER:  Some new faces coming into the political sphere and also those that have clearly been successful in their previous lives, corporate lives outside the Canberra bubble.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  But not everyone is supportive.

DARREN CHESTER, NATIONALS MP:  I think having a job-sharing arrangement in federal parliament would be completely unworkable.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  Nationals MP Darren Chester is on a parliamentary committee which does a review after each election to ensure our political system is up to scratch.

They heard evidence from Professor Rubenstein.

DARREN CHESTER:  It fails at the first test, what would happen if the two members decided on a different position on conscience vote, for example, who gets to vote?

NAS CAMPANELLA:  The committee identified the need to improve representation but didn’t put forward job-sharing as one of the recommendations in the final report.

DARREN CHESTER:  I don’t think voters would warm to the idea. I can tell you now that if I was a candidate in an election and my opponent were two people looking to job-share, I would find that campaign very easy to win. I would just have to demonstrate that I’m 100 per cent committed to the job and they are only going to work half time.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  In a statement a spokesperson from the government said it was wanting to improve the parliamentary workplace to ensure people from different backgrounds and walks of life can represent their communities but that it was not considering the proposal for job-sharing parliamentarians.

KIM RUBENSTEIN:  I think that we need to consider job-sharing as a structural change that gives us more possibilities of having a fully equal parliament in terms of men and women.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  Professor Rubenstein says without a change to the Electoral Act it is still possible for two people to cram their names onto the nomination form, but if the Australian Electoral Commission rejects it, the candidates could contest that decision in the Federal Court, a move Ms Bock and Ms Bradlow have vowed to do.

KIM RUBENSTEIN:  I think the likelihood of a court examining this is high and I think that’s a positive thing in our system of separation of powers.

BRONWEN BOCK:  If a job-sharing proposal was rejected in another workplace, it would actually be discriminatory. It should be put to the people of Higgins to decide if two people can represent them in the next federal election.

NAS CAMPANELLA:  The pair argue dismissing the idea is an old-fashioned way of looking at power.

LUCY BRADLOW:  I think the world is changing, and if you can’t adapt with the world, then you are going to end up with the same group of people taking all the leadership positions.

BRONWEN BOCK:  We are bringing two sets of skills and experience and minds to debate and come up with good decisions.

LUCY BRADLOW:  We want better politics in Australia. We want better representation for all Australians and to do that we have to think differently.

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