Australia’s 35 newly elected MPs head to ‘parliament school’

by Sarah Martin
New MPs will hear from clerks, whips, former MPs, the outgoing speaker, the federal police and Asio on the inner workings of Parliament House

Australia’s 35 newly elected MPs have gone back to “school” in Canberra to learn about the inner workings of Parliament House before they officially take their seats in the chamber next month.

In a two-day session of what is coined “parliament school”, the new members of the House of Representatives are undertaking an induction that includes briefings from the clerks, whips, former MPs, the outgoing speaker, and government agencies, including the federal police and Asio.

Two MPs from the class of 2019 – Liberal James Stevens and Labor Alicia Payne – also spoke to the newly elected to share their advice and insights into adjusting to political life.

Outgoing speaker, Andrew Wallace, who addressed the MPs on Tuesday morning, said he wanted to instil in the new arrivals the “significance of what it is to be an MP and the privilege of working in the chamber”.

“A lot of them have come in with preconceived ideas about how bad this place is when it is the bastion of democracy in Australia,” he said.

“I stressed the importance of making friends across the aisle because you are never going to be in government your entire political life and in order for you to be able to do your job you need to be able to call upon those opposite for the good of your own constituents.

“My message was: learn the standing orders, because you can’t play football if you don’t know the rules, treat people with respect and decency because the same people you run into on the way up are the same people you run into on the way down,” he said.

“And don’t forget home, don’t forget family, don’t forget friends and don’t take yourself too seriously.”

Newly elected independent MPs Kylea Tink, Zoe Daniel, Sophie Scamps, Monique Ryan, Kate Chaney and Allegra Spender
Newly elected independent MPs Kylea Tink, Zoe Daniel, Sophie Scamps, Monique Ryan, Kate Chaney and Allegra Spender. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Payne said she had reflected on the unexpected events of the 46th parliament, including the bushfires, smoke haze and the disruption of Covid, telling the new MPs that “there is no rulebook for how you do your job”.

“It’s important not to get hung up on what your predecessor did … but to focus on the issues you think are most important to your electorate and the nation,” she said.

“To find the part of the job that you draw energy and inspiration from, and to make sure that even though parliament is a busy place it can also be a lonely place, and so you should check in on people.”

Independent MP Allegra Spender said MPs first needed to learn their way around the building, which is three storeys and covers 75,000 square metres, including a maze-like basement.

“I turned up on the Senate side by mistake, that took a time to just get around.”

The high-profile teal independent was also able to meet some of her new colleagues in Canberra for the first time, saying she was pleased to finally meet Monique Ryan, who defeated Josh Frydenberg.

The North Sydney independent Kylea Tink said she was hoping to shake the “very simple term” teals, which she said was “adopted during the election process to categorise us”.

“To call us anything – it should be independents, because fundamentally that’s what we are. We’ve been voted in to represent the communities that elected us. We’ll approach politics in that way.”

The new Labor MP for the seat of Bennelong, Jerome Laxale, said he was happy to meet the independents from “his part of town” and was looking forward to working closely with them on issues affecting Sydney.

“This is a really diverse and dynamic group of people and it is great to be in an environment where party politics doesn’t matter, particularly over the next few days,” he said.

Michelle Ananda-Rajah, the new Labor MP for the seat of Higgins, also said there was a “good vibe” among the newly elected MPs.

“It is a diverse group, they are all interesting people and I think it is going to be quite collegiate,” she said.

The former doctor said her new office was very different to her normal workplace, saying she had only ever worked in hospitals.

“Lots of corridors, but very different,” she said.

The Greens Max Chandler-Mather took the opportunity to remind the federal parliamentary press gallery that Canberra and parliament is “quite disconnected from our electorates”.

“It’s always worth remembering … the real power lies in the communities we represent and the people we organise.”

“Already being down here, Canberra feels like it is partly set up to deliberately separate elected representatives from ordinary people,” he said.

Clearly when the drafters of the constitution decided to plonk the capital between Sydney and Melbourne they didn’t give enough consideration to Australia’s third global city, Brisbane, the site of the Greens-land slide that brought three more Greens MPs into the lower house.

Labor’s MP for Swan in Western Australia, Zaneta Mascarenhas, said the class of 2022 included “a lot of new energy” and was hopeful of seeing change to the culture of parliament.

“I feel like there is a whole suite of new and interesting people that have been elected up and I am excited that that reflects Australia more broadly, but I also think there is a real commitment to improve the workplace culture of parliament,” she said.