BY PETER ROLFE
THIRTEEN Labor MPs with the most marginal seats in the state have given voters the silent treatment six months out from the state election.
The “Silent 13” includes four Brumby Government ministers and all have refused to answer four key public policy questions.
The Sunday Herald Sun asked the MPs in electorates at most risk of being lost to the Coalition for their views on the troubled myki “smartcard”, crime sentencing, the merits of an Independent Commission Against Corruption and whether Christine Nixon should stay or go as head of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority.
But not one agreed to answer the questions.
Six of the MPs refused point-blank, saying they had no interest.
Two declined through their staff the opportunity to show their constituents what they stood for and five did not answer at all.
The 13 seats the Labor MPs now hold cover a broad cross-section of the community, representing about 500,000 Victorians – easily enough to unseat the Government.
The politicians were emailed, phoned, sent text messages and reminded that a “no comment” response would be marked next to their name should they choose not to answer.
Electorate officers, staff and ministerial advisers were also briefed on the survey.
But not a single politician answered the poll.
On Friday morning the Sunday Herald Sun sent an email titled “urgent media query” to the 13 Labor MPs to seek their views on issues that could make or break their hopes of re-election.
Calls were then made to the MPs and their electorate offices to ensure the request had been received, that the questions made sense and the politicians understood that if they did not answer their response would be listed as no comment.
On Friday afternoon, when contacted to see if a response would be forthcoming, a spokesman for Ballarat West MP Karen Overington said “she is aware of it, but it’s up to her if she wants to respond”.
A spokeswoman for Bentleigh MP Rob Hudson said “he won’t be answering”.
Staff at Burwood MP Bob Stensholt’s office said he “declined to comment” when asked why he had not responded.
Forest Hill MP Kirstie Marshall provided the most emphatic action imaginable in choosing not to comment – she hung up when the Sunday Herald Sun phoned to ask why she had not responded.
The silence echoes former premier Jeff Kennett’s infamous gagging of his MPs during the 1999 election.
A spokesman for Ripon MP and Agriculture and Small Business Minister Joe Helper, Matthew Hillard, said: “Joe will not be responding to those questions”. When asked why, he said: “Because he has chosen not to.”
Gembrook MP Tammy Lobato sent a text message stating: “I don’t have a comment, but thanks for asking.”
Despite being contacted several times, Bendigo East MP and Regional and Rural Development Minister Jacinta Allan and Women’s Affairs Minister Maxine Morand did not respond.
All 13 seats were held by the Liberals last time they were in government.
A 14th MP, Mordialloc MP Janice Munt, who is on a margin of 3.55 per cent, was unable to respond because she was ill in hospital. The three Labor seats most vulnerable to the Greens – Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick – were excluded from the survey because the party is expected to support Labor in the event of a hung parliament.
The Coalition must win 13 seats to form government.
Ten of Labor’s most vulnerable seats are held by less than 4 per cent on a two-party preferred basis. The four seats in most danger, Mt Waverley, Gembrook, Forest Hill and Mitcham, are held by less than 2 per cent. Mt Waverley was held by only 205 votes in 2006 by Ms Morand.
– with James Campbell