Elliot fails to speak up

RICHMOND MP and former Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, is one of Federal Parliament’s quietest MPs, having spoken in debates within the house only 16 times in the year to June 30.

The figure, revealed on the Open Australia website (www.openaustralia.org) stands in stark contrast to the Northern Rivers’ other Federal MP, Janelle Saffin in Page, who spoke in 77 debates over the same period and says she would have spoken out more had she been able to.

The website says Ms Elliot spoke on 15 bills in the year to June 30, but Ms Elliot’s office has disputed that figure, saying she actually spoke in 16 debates.

The figure ranks her as the second-quietest minister of the last Government, beaten only by Simon Crean, who served as Minister for Trade during theGovernment’s last term and spoke in only 14 debates, according to the website.

However, Ms Elliot said it was because of her ministerial responsibilities that she spent so little time on her feet in Parliament.

“In terms of the passage of legislation through the Parliament, the standing orders require that ministers speak only to matters pertaining to their portfolio areas,” she said.

Discussing her own role on the floor of the Lower House (The Northern Star did not discuss Ms Elliot’s performance in the House with her), Ms Saffin said addressing the Parliament was a central part of her job.

“When I’m home in the electorate there are all the things I do here, the events I attend and projects I work on. In Parliament I use my time to lobby for local things, but I also take my role as a parliamentarian seriously,” Ms Saffin said.

Over the period covered on the website, Ms Saffin addressed the House on topics ranging from the 65th birthday of jailed Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, to the need for paid parental leave, to specific issues raised by constituents within Page.

She also asked her share of questions to Government Ministers, but denied they were ‘Dorothy Dixers’ – friendly questions designed to let a Minister waxlyrical on whatever subject was raised in the question.

Ms Saffin said she would have spoken more often in the House, but was limited by her role as an occasional speaker.

Hansard records show Ms Elliot had, as she said, largely limited herself to speaking on matters relating to her portfolio. The exception was a constituency statement made in February this year when she rose to praise the Government’s investments in education in Richmond.

More broadly, the quietest MP in the House of Reps was the Liberal-National Party Member for the Queensland seat of Fairfax, Alex Somlyay.

Mr Somlyay, who was first elected in 1990, spoke four times in parliamentary debates in the year to June 30, according to the website.

At the chatterbox end of the scale was Scullin MP Harry Jenkins, whose role as Speaker managed to put his voice in 437 parliamentary debates.

Also given inflated figures thanks to their parliamentary duties was the Leader of the House of Representatives, Anthony Albanese (238) and Deputy Speaker Anna Burke (209).

Blair MP Shayne Neumann took the gong for the Parliament’s most talkative backbencher.

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