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Restoring integrity and democracy in government

Many voters in North Shore are disgruntled with a Government that seems to have no respect for the electorate, that appears increasingly to be in the hands of elites, and more interested in their advancement than the public good. Our political system, as a consequence, has lost its legitimacy.

Our two-party system is no longer fit for purpose, it has withered on the vine. Over several decades the two major parties have been complicit in shutting down parliamentary debate and controlling Question Time, to limit occasions where the Government can face criticism or be asked to answer questions. The number of days Parliament sits has been slashed: in 2022 the Legislative Assembly sat for 43 days, the Legislative Council for 41. Parliament’s Standing Orders have been revised to maintain the major parties’ stranglehold over parliamentary debate, to contain and silence independent Members. New South Wales electoral law has been amended to dissuade independents from standing and weaken their chances of winning.

I was surprised to read in Hansard, the current Member for North Shore bragging she had delivered “almost eight hundred speeches” during her time in Parliament. She has been described there as “talkative, loquacious and garrulous,” but even so, an average of 3.5 speeches a day seemed remarkable. In 2020, when the Legislative Assembly sat for a total of 36 days, the parliamentary website records the Member for North Shore gave 178 speeches, almost 5 per day. On 13 October 2022, it listed her personal best, eleven speeches in one day; beyond belief!

On closer examination, our current Member’s record gives us a clear line of sight into the debasement of the New South Wales Parliament. Her “speeches” include a couple of Dorothy Dixers, arranged to set off a rousing reply from the relevant Minister; a few Motions such as Vivid Sydney and Christmas Felicitations: and a handful of Matters of Public Importance including the HSC, RUOK, Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea and the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba. On occasion she has been pulled up for confusing a Matter of Public Importance and a Community Recognition Statement, by far her most popular utterance; she has delivered more than seven hundred.  

Community Recognition Statements were adopted in 2016 under Premier Mike Baird. They are limited to a maximum of sixty seconds each, under House Procedures, though Members may submit up to three more in writing per sitting day that will be recorded in Hansard and count towards their total. Community Recognition Statements must never criticise, mention matters of policy, or request the Government, or any other body, to take action, or to desist from it; all features that might be considered fundamental to a speech in a House of Parliament. On a Member’s parliamentary record, exhibited on the New South Wales Parliament website, Community Recognition Statements are listed as speeches. In my view it would probably be more accurate to count them as “utterances”.

The many hundreds of Community Recognition Statements given by the Member for North Shore and those of her colleagues, on all sides of the chamber, heap praise on individual constituents, schools, sporting clubs and other organisations and events, most in their electorate; in her case mostly in Mosman. Members’ offices ensure that each one so recognised receives a follow up letter in the post, signed by the responsible Member, with a gold embossed certificate enclosed, suitable for framing and exhibition.

The atrophy of our democratic processes has corrupted both Parliament and government. It has not gone unnoticed by the media or the electorate, but more often than not is tolerated, with an assurance that voters can use the ballot-box at regular intervals to elect a fresh parliament or put an alternative party in power. We have learned that an election may pass the baton, but it does not stop corruption.

There is a refreshing new effort by women independents to restore vigour to parliament, to raise community concerns and to persuade and support the government to take action on urgent and difficult issues, many of which run contrary to party head offices and their financial backers. Those are my objectives in standing for North Shore on 25 March, and I call on voters to trust me to take up this work on their behalf.

 

[1] Hansard 16 November 2022

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