Speeches versus results

WHEN was the last time you popped into the public gallery at Federal Parliament or tuned into the live stream? I'm guessing not recently, if ever.

Apart from question time which is worth watching for entertainment value, most of the time you'd see a few MPs staring at their iPad, separated by a whole bunch of empty chairs, while one of them waffles on about something. It's much the same in State Parliament where I have often thought "what on earth is the point of this?"

There's a reason more politicians aren't warming those comfy green seats; they've got better things to do.

So it was perplexing this week to see the Greens highlighting a comparison of the parliamentary performance of Tasmanian independent MHR Andrew Wilkie with their own Melbourne MHR Adam Bandt. At first glance, Bandt romps it in - 120 parliamentary speeches to Wilkie's 49 and 42 second- reading speeches to just six from Wilkie.

Wow, he has been busy, you might think. Has Wilkie just been napping in parliament on sitting days, you might wonder.

The point of this number crunching exercise by Greens co-founder Louise Crossley was to dispel the notion that independents are more effective than MPs backed by a party machine. The Greens and Labor have their eyes on Denison, held by Wilkie by just 1.2 per cent, and appear to be ramping up their campaigns to oust him at the next election.

A debate about the power of independence versus the party machine is well worth having, but it shouldn't be reduced to this simple scorecard.

There are many reasons why Bandt is spending more time on his feet. For one thing he is the Greens' sole representative in the federal lower house and, is therefore, required to put his party's views forward on a whole range of issues. Wilkie can afford to be a little more choosy and save his breath for issues most likely to effect his constituents here in Tasmania.

Defending his record, Mr Wilkie accused the Greens of "confusing activity with results". I would go one step further. They're confusing waffling on in parliament while no one is listening with meaningful activity.

So how could you assess a politician's performance more accurately or get a better grip on the influence of an independent versus that of a minor party such as the Greens?

Wilkie might like it if we used another simple calculation: adding up the dollars he's helped secure for the state. On that score, his bottom line is pretty healthy given the $340 million federal government investment in the Royal Hobart Hospital upgrade.

But this too, falls short and ignores the concerns about the effect of that money on Tasmania's GST share and questions about priorities for the ailing health system.

The better question is who has made the biggest difference? There's no easy answer and it certainly doesn't come down to just numbers.

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