It might not surprise you to hear that an analysis of who does what in the federal House of Representatives has concluded that our least-active MPs are in the twilight of long political careers.

But it might surprise you to hear the reasons some of them give for apparently taking it easy up on the hill. And don’t just blame older veteran MPs for slacking off — some of our least-active MPs are actually newbies.

Bond University students mined publicly available information about the 150 House of Representatives members’ committee work, questions asked and speeches made this term. Parliamentary roles and titles were also factored in.

Based on their performance in these categories, eight MPs won the unenviable title as the least-active pollies. These eight were in the bottom 20 members in two of the three categories this term. (You can read this story from yesterday about our most active and ambitious lower-house MPs, and here’s the overall introduction to the Order in the House series.)

One of the “wooden spooners”, Nationals member for Mallee John Forrest, told researchers on the Bond University / Crikey data-mining project that he had made a conscious decision not to participate in question time or make speeches because he believes they are a “waste of time”.

Forrest, who ranked in the bottom 20 members for questions and speeches, says the result do not surprise him. He says after seven terms in Parliament, he decided to focus his efforts on select committees and constituents:

“As a young fella, I believed in debate, where you stood up and had an opportunity for rebuttal and counter-arguments and you actually influenced an outcome, and people would sit there and listen to the debate and change their minds,” he said. “But the Parliament doesn’t work like that. The decisions are made in the party room. You can go down to the chamber and you can speak your heart out and the end outcome is exactly the same, because the divisions occur along party lines. I’ve become dissatisfied with the chamber process. All that process does is allow you to big-note yourself, create an impression, that looks favourable for a promotion coming along.”

The other less-active MPs may also have become jaded with long service; almost all of them took office in the 1990s. Liberal members Don Randall, Russell Broadbent and Mal Washer ranked in the bottom 20 in two of three categories we looked at.

Wayne Swan (Labor), Ian MacFarlane (Liberal), Craig Emerson (Labor) and Mark Butler (Labor) also ranked in the bottom 20 in two of three categories. However, these members all hold ministerial or shadow ministerial portfolios and would have less time for committee work.

Broadening the focus to the 40 lowest-performing politicians tells a slightly different story. Yes, veteran MPs accounted for a substantial portion of the group, with 15 of those MPs having served more than five terms. But inexperience was also a factor, with almost half of this group in their first term of office — far from being put out to political pasture, they’re new and green.

In interpreting this information, it should be noted that the analysis is only based the three quantifiable areas: making speeches, asking questions during question time and committee work. The politicians named may still be active within their parties or electorates.

This data analysis only counted work done in the current Parliament (the 43rd), but some of these members had done significant committee work earlier in their careers.

* Bond University journalism students and Crikey have teamed up on a data-mining project, Order in the House, looking into who has done what in the federal House of Representatives so far this parliamentary term. We’ll be rolling out more stories in the coming weeks. To search for what we found on individual MPs, click through to this story and enter their details in the widget on the right-hand side. 

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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