When NSW Labor MP Cherie Burton gave her inaugural speech in “The Bear Pit” in May 1999, she pledged to work “tirelessly” for her Kogarah constituents in southern Sydney.

While she may be hyper-active in the high streets and back streets of the electorate, her performance in parliament has been lamentable: no speeches or questions throughout 2008 and only four vocal interventions in 2007 lasting less than 12 minutes.

How different it all sounded on May 12, 1999. The visitors’ gallery was packed with family and friends when she said:

“Firstly, though, I would like to thank the people of Kogarah for trusting me to be their local representative in the New South Wales Parliament. I will not let them down. I will work tirelessly to ensure that the people of Kogarah receive the best quality in representation and service, and I will do everything I can to improve our local area as well as the quality of life of the people of St George.”

The rhetoric soared when she told MPs:

“Put simply, Kogarah is a great place to live. However, like all parts of Sydney, Kogarah has needs and priorities that the Labor Government must address. Today I commit myself to working tirelessly for the people who elected me to ensure that what needs to happen does happen.”

On the same night, another newly-elected Labor MP, Barry Collier, from Miranda in the same Sydney region, delivered his inaugural speech.

While Ms Burton became a parliamentary secretary in 2003 and then a Cabinet minister (2005-2007), Collier had to wait until last year to become a parliamentary secretary.

While Hansard records Ms Burton speaking just four times in the 100 sitting since the 2007 state election, Collier has been on his feet 174 times — 88 times in 2007 and 86 in 2008.

In the past two years, Ms Burton has made two private member’s statements in which she has addressed local issues on behalf of her constituents. Collier has given 29.

He’s a workhorse while she’s a show pony.

Labor’s margin in Kogarah of 17.7 per cent seems to make it a constituency too far for the Coalition when the next election is held in March 2011.

But as the Sydney by-elections in October demonstrated, when there were 20 per cent swings against Labor, no government seat is safe anymore.

With Ms Burton uncertain whether she wants to stand again in 2011, Kogarah has suddenly appeared on the Coalition’s list of “target” seats.

If the working people of suburbs like Allawah, Beverly Hills, Bexley, Bexley North, Blakehurst, Carlton, Carss Park, Connells Point, Hurstville, Kingsgrove, Kogarah, Kyle Bay, South Hurstville decide to give Labor the old heave-ho, no one can blame them.

And the silent Ms Burton and the NSW right-wing machine will have to accept their share of responsibility.