Election '92 is a long yawn

by Chris Griffith
Published 6 September 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


Twelve days in, and Queensland's first post-Fitzgerald election is undisputedly this state's most boring since the 1960s.

So unfocussed are the state election issues, so lack lustre is the political debate, that last week the most memorable events were the leader's orchestrated media exploits.

There was, for example, Liberal leader Joan Sheldon's parasailing adventure over the Gold Coast Broadwater, and, not to be outdone, Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge's visit to the blood bank.

The Borbidge blood donation was widely publicised and well received, and will help the blood bank replenish its currently desperately low stocks.

However, on a media manipulation level it is fortunate politicians can depart from this precious bodily fluid in the quest for power only once per election campaign.

Compare this election campaign with the previous three, and you soon realise how low key it is.

In 1983 the campaign was bitter following the ascendancy of Terry White as Liberal leader and his enunciation of a gutsy election platform of parliamentary and electoral reform.

Premier Bjelke-Petersen's rejection of White as coalition leader and the election of the Nationals in their own right (after two defections) has relegated the Liberals to the parliamentary cross-benches for nine years.

In 1986, Labor leader Nev Warburton's election campaign was bedeviled by the previous year's SEQEB dispute.

The Nationals' mastery of media manipulation meant the issue of unruly striking unionists "getting away with it" dominated any concern about the abuse of human rights and the ever-present issue of police and political corruption.

Of course, all that changed in 1989 with a watershed election dominated by the Fitzgerald report and the instability of two premier's and three National Party ministries governing in that party's last 12 weeks in power.

In 1992, the opposition parties are so struggling for issues they have resorted to the totally predicable tactic of linking Premier Goss with Prime Minister Keating, Victorian Premier Joan Kirner and, last week, former South Australian Premier John Bannon.

Mr Borbidge said Mr Goss should stand-aside from his staff former Bannon economic adviser Paul Woodland, because it was claimed he was part of a conspiracy to keep down the South Australian State Bank's interest rates during their last state election.

Mr Goss responded Mr Woodland had previously recommended the State Bank be investigated, a response which dampened the issue.

However the issue may not have been died so quickly had Mr Borbidge explored another tact, namely, whether in Queensland all the checks and balances are in place to prevent any economic disaster similar to those in any southern state.

Understandably, if there is a unifying state issue, it is unemployment and economic management, federal issues which, thanks to the Goss Government's shrewd agenda setting, are totally dominating what debate there is.

Of course, state government's do affect the local economy through taxes, outlays, and through policy that supports or discourages development, local industry, and business.

But the electorate would be conned if it believed a state government's capacity to promote jobs went beyond its fiscal responsibility to federally governed areas such as monetary policy or tariffs.

Indeed the best a state government can do in this recession is to spend wisely, attempt to buffer the local economy against the national recession, and not make the enormous economic mistakes of the south.

It is therefore fascinating to wonder why the opposition parties have allowed Labor to get away with running the campaign based almost exclusively on budgetary outlays made credible by past restrained conservative party economic management.

The net effect is the Goss Government will win this election without being forced for any election commitment to other areas of social policy not part of the budget.

Women's issues, the role of the Queensland parliament, the CJC's future, the corruption issue, the inadequacy of the government's response to prostitution, and its handling of the Cooke Inquiry have barely been canvassed since the election began.

Nor has the Opposition campaigned strongly against one unacceptable Government trait - its substitution of Bjelke-Petersen style confrontation with more subtle forms of manipulation and trickery.

This trait came to the fore recently when the Opposition was not afforded its budget reply, when a new tobacco tax was proposed the day after a budget of no new taxes, and over the Government's handling of the selection of CJC chair Sir Max Bingham's successor.

Surely integrity and the tenets of Westminster democracy still matter to the Queensland electorate, after all the Fitzgerald report is only three years behind us.

The minor parties too must continually challenge this government to address other issues, for example the environment and the historic squandering of the Aboriginal welfare trust fund.

They must challenge loudly and clearly the Goss Government's decision to reject EARC's recommendation that minor groups need only 150 members to be classified a political party.

The government's decision to raise this requirement to 500 means Democrat and Green candidates will not have their parties listed beside their names on the ballot paper. They'll be listed as independents as their memberships fall between 150 and 500.

Finally, all politically parties should publish before election day a register of donations they have received. This measure was recommended recently by EARC, but is yet to be implemented. Nevertheless this does not stop all parties displaying now their commitment to this major Fitzgerald Report recommendation.

There's an old adage. Politicians are scrupulous in keeping their election promises -- to their donors!