Be nice to each other. Don’t forget your family. And watch your waistline. These were some of the lessons the 37 first-time members of the House of Representatives were given on Tuesday as they arrived at Parliament House for a two-day orientation session.
Colloquially known as “pollies’ school”, the seminar offers a crash-course in how to survive life as an MP.
While some politicians can only dream of going unrecognised, this wasn’t the case for most of the newcomers. Meryl Swanson, the Labor MP for Paterson, wasn’t offended when journalists waiting at the arrival door had to check who she was by consulting a print-out of names and faces.
This was the first time many MPs had met each other, including those from their own side. Luckily, they were handed name tags. Nervous energy filled the air.
The day began with a special tour of the building in which the MPs were told where to find the coffee shop, gym and library.
Lindsay MP Emma Husar, who injured her knee playing basketball during the election campaign, took the tour in a scooter.
Husar later confessed to breaching the rules by taking a photo in the House of Representatives chamber. She vowed to study her guide to parliamentary procedure before Parliament sits at the end of the month.
Liberal MP for Mackellar Jason Falinski checked in on Facebook, saying he was “feeling excited”. Former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson went a step further by posting a live video tour of the “lifeless” corridor and his office.
The office carpet, viewers learnt, “smells like a rented apartment that’s just had a dry-clean for the first time”.
At the previous induction in 2013, outgoing speaker Anna Burke advised MPs not to claim frivolous expenses such as trips to weddings. If it could end up on the front page of the paper, she warned, then don’t claim it.
It turned out Burke’s successor, veteran politician Bronwyn Bishop, needed that advice rather than the newbies.
Current speaker Tony Smith advised: “Today I want to say be proud of our democracy.
“We are very fortunate in Australia, we have a very rich democratic history.”
Nationals whip Mark Coulton was more practical, advising the newcomers to eat healthily and do plenty of exercise.
“This place is like a feedlot with alcohol,” he said.
Coulton explained he was speaking from experience. On the way to a parliamentary committee on obesity a few years ago he jumped on a set of airport scales and was shocked to find he weighed 135 kilograms.
The politicians were also advised to begin and end their days by speaking to loved ones at home.
“We were told a lot about work-life balance and not to forget those who helped get us here,” said Nick Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie.
Peter Khalil, the Labor member for Wills, said the MPs were also told they to build up goodwill with their colleagues, even those on the other side of politics
“We learnt it can be a very willing and combative place but to play the ball not the man,” he said. “You can argue with people over policy differences and engage in the battle of ideas without personal.”
Or as Coulton put it: “You get more done here with honey than vinegar.”
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