Any political staffer will tell you that one of the most challenging and at times frustrating environments is working in Opposition. Resources are limited and staying on top of portfolio issues while holding the Government to account can be extremely difficult.

And yet for advocates, engaging with the offices of Shadow Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries should form an essential part of any campaign strategy.

This week, we caught up with Kara Hinesley, former adviser to Labor’s Ed Husic MP during his time as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Treasurer and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition Assisting with Digital Innovation.

We asked what it’s like to work in Opposition and how advocates can develop effective working relationships with the Shadow Ministry.

Thanks for speaking with us Kara. Firstly, how did you become involved in politics and what did a day in your shoes look like?

It was always changing and changing fast!

I was grateful to Ed because he gave me chance when I came over here from the US. I was a lawyer by trade working in the criminal law courts. I hadn’t had much experience with parliamentary process or issues as I mainly dealt with black letter law.

I was introduced to Ed by a mutual friend and he was kind enough to offer me a position as a researcher. I found his portfolio extremely interesting. When I arrived in Australia it was at the tail end of the GFC and this was one of the only countries that had fared reasonably well during global downturn. I knew Australia was dependent on commodities and mining is obviously still important to this country, however I felt that the technological wave would drive things forward and Ed had the foresight to see that too.

For example, at the time I started he was working on the IT pricing inquiry which was really interesting to me. Just the idea that Australians were paying thirty to forty percent more for their software and their hardware I found incredible.

There was also interesting work on the way crowdfunding was regulated and Ed was also seeking to change the way employee share schemes worked for startups.

A day in my working life was researching, reading law reform commission reports, helping with opinion pieces. Ed’s quite active in the media and that’s how I transitioned to media adviser. I was then able to help Ed with his media activities, like drafting press releases, helping him prepare for Sky News and Q&A – I was there when Ed first appeared on Q&A.

It sounds like it was quite empowering to become involved in all aspects of the role, both policy and media?

It was. In Opposition you have to be a little bit ‘scrappy’ as you don’t have the same sort of resources as you do in government. We all had to roll up our sleeves, Ed included, to get the work done. When Ed’s portfolio started to grow, we had to become even more proactive.

He did a lot of visits, including with local schools. He tried to bring a lot of his areas of portfolio responsibility to Western Sydney as his electorate took in the Mount Druitt, Blacktown, Rooty Hill area. It’s an area that doesn’t typically have a lot of the same resources as other school jurisdictions. Ed did some great work in having the kids come out to the Microsoft campus or have tech leaders speak to the kids at their school. I found a lot of that very compelling and interesting.

In your experience what were some of the effective things advocates did that helped deliver their key message to your office?

It was often the startup and tech founders we met with that provided us with important information on what was going on, on the ground. Like issues with 457 visas in the tech space, R&D tax incentives, equity-raising through employee share schemes and more. A lot of the founders were from the UK and US and in meeting with them and hearing about their experiences, we started to realise how serious it was that a lot of them had to leave our shores because the conditions for their operations were better in those other countries. That’s when we realised we had to try to make changes here by pushing legislative change.

Ed would also travel to the US to look at how they were incentivising their tech start-ups, and it was by talking to advocates on the ground, on the frontline of their industry, that we were able to understand the issues that were facing them.

One of the reforms you pushed in Parliament was on employee share schemes. What do you think were some of the challenges in putting the proposed legislative amendments together?

Typically in these situations being able to find compromise is the real challenge. Developing policies and legislation can be tricky when you try to work out what compromises may be necessary with different stakeholder groups.

You’re often trying to reach some kind of consensus between parties and of course the crossbench, who have different goals and agendas. The current growing crossbench is making things even more unpredictable in terms of how legislation gets passed.