In May 2008 it was a year since Roy Smith took his seat in the upper house of NSW Parliament and two years since Robert Brown took over John Tingle’s seat. This post examines their performance over that period.
Politicians must be held to account. We pay their salaries and they spend our money. It is pointless merely being in parliament if it has no effect. We all know that politicians mostly just talk, but outcomes are what really matter; tangible changes that benefit those who voted for them, not just press releases, questions in parliament, speeches and newsletters.
Any assessment of performance is obviously dependent on expectations. For this we turn to what we were told prior to Smith’s election.
In March 2007 Robert Brown wrote on the party’s website: “We will negotiate the end of the ridiculous twenty-eight day so called “cooling off” period, at least for second and subsequent firearms. This has been dropped by most other jurisdictions, as being pointless and expensive.”
In the March 2007 SSAA NSW Newsletter, readers were told: “Look deep inside your crystal ball, what do you see in March 2008? … Together, the pair combined to remove much of the red-tape that had restricted sporting shooters.”
After the election Shooters Party members were told in a newsletter in the third quarter of 2007: “Our two votes will be crucial again and again, and the Government will be aware of that when our members are negotiating improvements in the firearm laws, and other matters affecting legitimate firearm owners.”
Roy Smith’s inaugural speech in parliament spelled out a list of objectives.
Smith and Brown regularly do hold the balance of power in the Legislative Council. Many votes are decided by a majority of one, two or three votes, meaning there would have been a different result if they had voted differently.
However, it is also a fact that they do not hold the balance of power exclusively. There are eight cross bench members, including the Greens with four and the Christian Democrats with two. If the Greens and Christian Democrats join with either the Government or Opposition, the two Shooters Party votes will not determine the result.
So, given that, have Brown and Smith met the expectations they raised? This is my opinion of their performance so far. If you have a different opinion, leave a comment below. For background go to the summary on MLC Watch or for more detail, Hansard is on line. As always, irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted.
My rating of their performance (out of 10) is as follows:
Brown: 2 for effort 1 for results
Smith: 5 for effort (mostly due to the Firearms Amendment Bill) 0 for results
To understand why they have been given this rating, read on.
1. So far, neither Brown nor Smith has achieved anything like what was promised. In fact, in objective terms, benefits for shooters are virtually zero so far. (Arguably that has been the case since 1995, when John Tingle was first elected.)
2. Brown and Smith nearly always support the Government on substantive matters, only voting with the Opposition on procedural matters and some amendments. To date, the Government has given them little or nothing in return.
3. Brown failed with a private members bill to amend the Administrative Decisions Tribunal Act to increase transparency. The Government and Greens opposed it.
4. Brown succeeded with a private members bill to reduce the impact of good behaviour bonds on shooters. The bill was originally introduced by John Tingle along with a similar one relating to Apprehended Violence Orders. It is a pity the AVO bill failed as it would have been of benefit to a number of shooters. Very few shooters will benefit from this one.
5. Brown frequently speaks in parliament, offering comments on all sorts of things. Some of his comments have been bizarre, including a suggestion that the floor of parliament be lowered to enable the installation of a new coat of arms. Another equated “violent protests” to domestic terrorism.
While MPs are expected to vote on everything and legislation covers a broad range of subjects, it is difficult to see how Brown brings credit to shooters. His comments often lack intelligence and rarely have any impact.
6. Brown appears subject to John Tingle’s direction. In October 2006 he asked a question relating to prostate cancer, a disease suffered by John Tingle. He has also introduced a private members bill to reinstate Port Macquarie-Hastings Council to local government elections in late 2008. John Tingle lives in Port Macquarie.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Brown pursing these matters on Tingle’s behalf, but they should obviously be of much lower priority than achieving gains for shooters.
7. Brown regularly asks questions in parliament. A number have related either to the Game Council or fishing, but very few have been about shooting per se.
8. Smith has asked a few questions in parliament, all of them about shooting. However, he never participates in debates and has made only two speeches (including his inaugural speech). He has also been absent from votes at various times and invariably votes the same as Brown when present.
9. Notwithstanding their support for the liberty of shooters, Brown and Smith are inconsistent supporters of liberty generally.
a. In support of liberty:
i. Both voted in favour of a bill to allow stem cell research.
ii. Both voted in favour of a bill to give equal rights to the children of same sex relationships.
iii. Brown has consistently expressed reservations about government spending in response to global warming.
b. In opposition to liberty:
i. Both voted against a bill to extend the heroin injecting room trial in Kings Cross.
ii. Brown appears to be opposed to (or at best equivocal about) the privatisation of electricity generators in NSW.
iii. Brown is emphatically opposed to the privatisation of Snowy Hydro, despite its parlous financial state and the socialist implications.
iv. Brown suggested a complete ban on placing posters on power poles.
v. Brown voiced doubt about GM canola and effectively confirmed the government has a right to regulate what farmers grow on their own private property.
vi. Both voted against Opposition amendments to a bill that would reduce from 90 to 21 days the duration of a warrant for surveillance using listening devices.
vii. Brown opposed the sale of Government assets such as Callan Park.
viii. Brown spoke against extending daylight saving to correspond with Victoria and ACT.
ix. Brown and Smith supported the establishment of a new parliamentary position for Fred Nile (Assistant Deputy President).
x. Brown voted for a bill to remove exemptions for smoking in pubs and clubs, including outdoor areas. (The bill was proposed by the Democrats.)
xi. Brown expressed support for monitoring by GPS the speed of heavy vehicles.
10. The Firearms Amendment Bill, introduced by Roy Smith, is the first genuine attempt by the Shooters Party to lift the burden on shooters. I understand Smith’s parliamentary assistant, Pamela Reeves, is largely responsible for it.
Whether the Bill becomes law is a moot point. Private members bills cannot succeed without Government support, as they have to pass the lower house. Much will depend on whether Smith and Brown can effectively leverage their vote better than has been evident so far.
The Opposition regards them both as Labor Party lackeys, as they viewed John Tingle during his 11 years in parliament. Being a lackey is not a formula for negotiating the best outcomes.
The next performance review will be in six months. MLC Watch will be kept updated during that time.