Federal MPs busy toeing party line at votes in Canberra

VOTERS on the North Coast can rest assured their local federal politicians are attending their fair share of votes in Canberra, but how they vote is a different story.

Voting records on online political database http://www.theyvoteforyou.org.au show the three politicians, Richmond MP Justine Elliot, Page MP Kevin Hogan and Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker, have all attended between 97% and 99% of votes since 2006.

But when asked about their voting records, Ms Elliot was the only North Coast MP willing to answer written questions on the subject.

APN asked about some key budget measures from last year still stalled in the Senate, on cuts to pension increases, a $5 extra co-payment on subsidised medicines, a bill to sell public assets to fund new infrastructure and votes on the fiery coal seam gas issue.

The trio of MPs all consistently voted the party line since they were each elected, and judging by the record, none are likely to change.

Both Mr Hogan and Mr Hartsuyker voted for a change in the indexation of pension increases, which Labor has claimed could cut $80 from pensioners over 10 years.

That was despite University of Adelaide data showing more than 40,000 full- or part-time pensioners live across Tweed, Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Byron Bay, Casino, Ballina and surrounds.

Ms Elliot said she remained opposed to each budget measure, as locals had told her they "have had enough of the broken promises and unfair budget".

She also said she supported investment in new infrastructure, and improving the Pacific Highway, but would not be drawn on what Labor's alternative to the government's asset recycling initiative was.

Ms Elliot said she was particularly opposed to cuts to indexed pensions due to the measure unfairly targeting those in need of support.

On key votes on CSG held last year, all three politicians voted along party lines, with Ms Elliot saying she stood "with my community" in opposing CSG mining.

But Mr Hogan, who has previously said he opposed giving the State Government approval powers, voted with his party to hand over environmental regulations to the NSW Government.

His voting record also shows he supported in parliament measures to also hand over approvals under a "water trigger" for extra assessment on CSG projects, originally former MP Tony Windsor's proposal.



VOTING attendance records may not be a reliable indicator of the quality of politicians, but they do show a "measure of commitment", Griffith University political expert Dr Paul Williams says.

Dr Williams said it was "very rare" that any MP, especially backbenchers without a ministerial role, would miss many votes, but there were legitimate reasons for doing so.

He said MPs could have committee meetings for inquiries they were undertaking, have a ministerial position with greater responsibility, or be "paired" - the practice of not voting when someone on the opposite benches was absent, to ensure numbers were even in the House.

But he said some MPs, like Bob Katter or Clive Palmer, have argued against attending every vote, on the grounds they "get more work done" outside the chamber, or as Mr Palmer has argued, he exercises more power through Palmer United Party positions in the Senate.

With the vast majority of MPs rarely if ever crossing the floor, Dr Williams said "party discipline" was much stronger in Australian political culture than in the United States or United Kingdom, where crossing the floor was much more common.

"There is a tight sense of party unity in both major parties. It's a culture of 'disunity is death', and voters are really electing a party to government, rather than a local MP," he said.

"But there are also very pragmatic reasons not to cross the floor - most backbenchers want to eventually be a minister, or want to climb up the ladder, and voting against the party line can be seen as a betrayal of the party and affect their future promotions."

But Dr Williams also said if MPs were passionate about a specific issue or policy, they were more likely to raise it within their faction or voting bloc, before bringing it to a party or caucus meeting, rather than publicly crossing the floor.

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