Electorate offices ‘essential’

Liberal Gembrook MP Brad Battin at his office. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS 212768_01

Electorate offices can stay open under Stage 4 restrictions as permitted workplaces, but the number of employees on site will be limited to a maximum of two – plus the MP.

An email sent on Thursday evening, 6 August, informed MPs that their staff and offices would no longer be considered permitted workers or workplaces.

The email – which was seen by the Gazette – advised that further guidance was being sought, and all electorate officers were advised not to work in the office.

But a subsequent email clarified that the Chief Health Officer had advised state and federal electorate officers could stay open under strict conditions.

“Wherever possible, if electorate officers can work from home, it must be done from home. We are asking all Victorians to change how they work and expect MPs and electorate office staff to lead by example,” a government spokesperson said.

A maximum of two staff – plus the member for parliament – will be allowed to ensure the minimal functioning of the office, however the front door must remain closed to the public, unless there are emergency or compassionate circumstances.

Liberal Gembrook MP Brad Battin said his office had been fielding hundreds of calls and up to 500 emails a day.

While the office hadn’t been accepting walk ins, people continued to attend in person, and were able to safely communicate with staff through a speaker system, Mr Battin explained.

“We’re elected for times like this, so we can be there for our community, but this email told us that we essentially couldn’t do our job,” he said.

“When people turn up to our office, it’s often their last resort, the last point of call. We get a range of people, some experiencing domestic violence, often community groups and most recently, we’ve had businesses who just need support and clarity.

“It’s already a very confusing time with Stage 4 restrictions and closing our office would make it even more difficult. You can’t answer the door from home.”

Mr Battin believes the email – which came from presiding officers – was a politically motivated decision by Premier Daniel Andrews.

“When the Chief Health Officer made a statement it was safe to open offices, we need to question Labor’s motives,” he said.

Labor Bass MP Jordan Crugnale said electorate offices had been closed to walk ins for some time.

“I take the issue of public health and our individual responsibility to reduce the risk of transmission extremely seriously which is why, where practical, we have been working remotely, since March,” she said.

“My team and I have not stopped for a minute in being there for our community we were elected to serve and represent.”

Ms Crugnale said her office continued to “work around the clock” to answer concerns, check in on constituents and provide updated communications and support.

“We have received record emails, held numerous virtual meetings, answered Facebook messages and importantly provided and continue to do so – up to date information, advice, resources, support and referrals across the board,” she said.

“This is our job and like many we have adapted to new forms of communication to keep our community informed and safe.”

[STAR POLL] – Should electorate offices remain open to the public amid the Covid pandemic