Justine battles on in quiet way
THE political stoush in the federal seat of Richmond escalated on Friday, with accusations of branch-stacking from the president of the electorate's oldest Labor branch.
Mrs 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 Mrs 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 Mrs Elliot created is the similarly-named Tweed Coast branch.
The furore began last 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 Mrs Elliot yesterday, Ms Smith also accused Mrs 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."
The presidents of both Mullumbimby/Bruns- wick and Byron Bay defended Mrs 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 Mrs 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."
Mrs Elliot declined an interview - 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," Mrs 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."