It was reported that federal local member Ann Sudmalis was one of those Liberal MP’s who voted for Tony Abbott in the recent leadership spill. Whilst this tells us much about her positioning in the Liberal Party, perhaps it is high time that she indicated to her constituents where she stands on a number of issues that divide her party.
According to recent polling the majority of voters support the following: More humane policies on refugees (55 per cent); marriage equality (61 per cent); climate change (67 per cent); more money for schools (76 per cent); stronger action on renewable energy (81 per cent). It should also be noted that amongst Liberal voters there was also majority support on each of these questions.
In the American system of government it is customary for elected politicians to be far more open on their voting intentions, indeed it is demanded of them. Here in Australia party discipline within the two major political parties requires politicians to follow the party line when voting in parliament. However, in determining party policy our elected representatives have their say in the party room.
Perhaps, apathy plays a part in Australian politics but in practice not much interest and little reporting is given to the policy local members advocate. Whilst Ms Sudmalis may have been a strong supporter of Tony Abbott and his Government’s hard-line policies, her constituents would no doubt be interested in knowing whether she has shifted her views under the more moderate Turnbull administration.
We may all ask the question why politicians in this country get away with so often hiding what policies they are advocating on our behalf. On a question such as marriage equality, Ms Sudmalis recently took a sounding on what her constituents supported but that is not telling us anything on how she might vote on the issue within her party’s caucus.
At the very least in an election year Ms Sudmalis should be telling voters which policies she stands for in what clearly is a divided party. Does she stand for a continuation of asylum seeker policy that keeps men, women and children indefinitely in detention on Nauru and Manus Island? Perhaps she could report to voters on how she is advocating for “stronger action” on renewable energy which according to the recent poll 75 per cent of Liberal voters want. Even more salient would be what are her views on taxation policy given her leader wants “everything on the table” being considered. It would be interesting to hear from her what she thinks her constituents want.
Politicians are great at producing, usually at taxpayer’s expense, glossy advertising material at election time. What however they are studious at avoiding is telling voters their views or how they will vote in caucus on more contentious issues. Politicians of all persuasions hate having to declare their positions on difficult questions. They obfuscate and try to avoid what is being put directly knowing that a clear answer may cost them votes. Their answer well may be that they listen to their constituents but do they? This is why all of us should be taking much more interest in whether our elected representatives do in fact truly represent us. Does Ms Sudmalis, for example, support the continuation of Gonski funding or even the restoration of funding for secular chaplains which the Abbott Government took from most of our Shoalhaven high schools. These kind of questions are important in Gilmore but how our local member has represented us on these issues in Canberra is unclear.
On the public record Ms Sudmalis has voiced in parliament strong criticism of Labor’s past mismanagement of the economy and the need to get the Budget back into surplus. Does she believe then in further cost-cutting measures or increased taxation? According to the editor of the New Bush Telegraph, Ms Sudmalis is welcome to use these pages to answer some of these questions, though I doubt it is an invitation that she is likely to take up! ■