Richmond MP Justine Elliot.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot. Jay Cronan

Elliot's enemies in stacking claim

THE political stoush in the Federal seat of Richmond escalated yesterday with accusations of branch-stacking from the president of the electorate's oldest Labor branch.

Ms Elliot has already been defending accusations of being missing-in-action in her electorate over the past two terms of government.

Now Tweed Heads branch president Christine Smith claims Ms Elliot - from Labor's right faction - created her own branch with non-active members specifically to counter the left-leaning Tweed Heads branch.

Ms Smith says the branch that Ms Elliot created is the similarly-named Tweed Coast branch.

The furore began on Thursday when the independent website, Open Australia, revealed Richmond MP Justine Elliot had participated in only 18 debates in the past year, whereas neighbouring Page MP, Janelle Saffin, had spoken in 89, raising questions of the former's performance.

While the presidents of two Richmond branches, Mullumbimby/Brunswick and Byron Bay, came out strongly defending Ms Elliot yesterday, Ms Smith also accused Ms Elliot's office of positioning key people in those branches.

"The other branches are fairly small and a lot of them have had people placed in them to run them who have come from Justine's office," Ms Smith said.

"Tweed Heads has a very active branch of about 35 to 40 members, but the Tweed Coast has over 100 members, most of which aren't really active at all - the branch has pretty much been stacked, to put it bluntly.

"Every attempt has been made to try to shut our branch down. We actually put in complaints to the duty MLC three years ago but they fell on deaf ears - complaints as to the stacking of the branch, and as to no new memberships coming through from Sussex St (Labor Party headquarters) to our branch.

"And then three weeks ago I was checking the Labor Party website and noticed in the branch search section that only Tweed Coast came up; that's only been fixed two weeks ago after I went berserk, again."

While the Tweed Coast branch could not be contacted yesterday, despite several attempts, the presidents of both Mullumbimby/Bruns- wick and Byron Bay defended Ms Elliot saying she was there to serve the constituents rather than the branches and both cited examples of generous federal funding as evidence of her effectiveness representing the electorate.

Mullumbimby/Brunswick Labor Party branch president Col Zwan said Ms Elliot was available, accessible and had often attended their branch meetings or sent staffers to represent her.

"A lot of people don't seem to realise the size of the electorate and she can't be everywhere at once," he said.

"Everybody says 'we never see Justine Elliot', but they don't notice when she comes around and hands out government money for different projects around the place (such as) the sports grounds at Byron, the upgrade at Banora Point and a lot of sports grants."

The president of the Byron Bay branch, who asked not to be named, described Ms Elliot as an excellent sitting member who had also attended their bi-monthly meetings as recently as July.

"We are more than happy with Justine. When I turned on the radio this morning I couldn't believe it; it was like something from out of space," she said.

"I've belonged to the ALP since 1972; I've stood as a candidate and always been active - any little

minor personality clashes surely should remain within the meetings. It is an internal matter, this is not how our party works."

Ms Elliot declined an interview with The Northern Star yesterday - as has been the case in much of her dealings with the media while in government - and deflected questions about branch stacking in an emailed response from staffers.

"I'll continue to work with our great local branch members to deliver for the North Coast," Ms Elliot said in the statement.

"As the Federal Member for Richmond I have delivered more than $1 billion for our local roads, schools, health and community resources."

The Northern Star was told to direct any further questions on internal party matters to the NSW ALP head office.

Are you happy with the member for Richmond's performance? Leave a comment below.

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