Richmond MP Justine Elliot
Richmond MP Justine Elliot John Gass

Our MPs vote on big issues but who do they really vote for?

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 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 New South Wales MP willing to answer written questions on the subject.

Page MP Kevin Hogan follows The Nationals’ agenda.
Page MP Kevin Hogan follows The Nationals’ agenda.

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

The MPs had consistently voted along party lines since they were each elected.

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 lived across Tweed, Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Byron Bay, Casino, Ballina and surrounds.

Ms Elliot said she remained opposed to each Budget measure, because 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 Labor's alternative to the Government's asset recycling initiative..

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

Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker
Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker

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 hand-over approvals under a "water trigger" for extra assessment on CSG projects, originally former MP Tony Windsor's proposal.

Mr Hogan did not respond to questions on the issue, but his record on it is mixed.

He helped ensure state governments would be forced to seek independent scientific advice on future CSG projects.

AN MP'S VOTING RECORD NOT THE FULL STORY

A VOTING attendance record may not be a reliable indicator of the quality of a politician, but it does show a "measure of commitment", Griffith University political expert Paul Williams says.

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

He said MPs could have committee meetings for inquiries, 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, including Bob Katter and Clive Palmer, had argued against attending every vote, on the grounds they "get more work done" outside the chamber, or as Mr Palmer has argued, he exercised more power through Palmer United Party positions in the Senate.

With most MPs rarely crossing the floor, Dr Williams said "party discipline" was stronger in Australian politics 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 cross the floor.

"You've really got to be a team player, and all efforts must be made to resolve an issue within the party, unless you're just out to make a big fuss or are particularly Machiavellian," he said.


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