Election over. Thank goodness!

by Chris Griffith
Published 20 September 1992 in The Sun-Herald


my face


It's over! Queensland's lackluster 1992 state election is history, as far as the voting public is concerned.

Yet for the state's three major parties, the fallout is just starting. For the winners, it is time to sit back and contemplate career paths, ministerial positions, and, in post-Fitzgerald Queensland, the prospect of who will chair parliamentary committees.

For the loosers, the scenario is bleak and goes beyond contemplating the powerless of opposition. There will be, of course, the predictable recriminations.

Parliamentary and organisations leaders will be asked to take the blame and resign, and there will be the fights over the spoils of opposition.

However the post-election period is also the time parties pay those campaign bills - pamphlets, direct mail, newspaper advertising, and thanks to rule changes after the election campaign began, those expensive TV ads.

This happened because the High Court overturned the Federal Government's decision to ban electronic political advertising once a state or federal election was called.

This decision somewhat torpedoed the carefully planned campaign strategies of the governing parties running pre-election ads.

In Queensland's case the Goss Government had not called the September 19 election until the last moment. The Queensland ALP maximised its advantage of being flushed with funds and advertised extensively on TV before the ban took effect.

The Victorian ALP also had run its notorious anti-New Zealand ads before calling its election to minimise the time a financially flushed Kennett opposition could respond.

However both strategies were thwarted by the High Court. In Victoria's case, the ALP is now faced with having spent invaluable reserves yet finding the Liberal Party well placed to reschedule its Guilty ads.

In Queensland, the High Court decision allowed the conservative parties to advertise, and in the Liberal's case, to change the course of the election campaign.

Without its law and order ads, the Liberal Party would not have terrorised the community with those tasteless yet very powerful presentations.

Nor would we have witnessed the ads becoming an issue in themselves with the use of murder victim Cheree Richardson's parents, the reference to convicted murderer Bevan Meninga, nor the outburst of disgust at the ads by the father of stabbing victim Shari Davies.

Indeed the tone of the election, but not necessarily the result, would have been different without the High Court's decision.

The question therefore arises: can parties pay the bills for this last-minute surge of advertising, especially when it comes to the cash-strapped Liberals. And if so, where has the money come from?

This is particularly important given the Liberal Party at the 1989 election overspent and was forced to sell its majestic Gregory Terrace headquarters and move to less pretentious rented diggings in Windsor.

To clarify these issues, EARC conducted a review into the public registration of donations, the disclosure of election expenditure, and political advertising.

Its recommendations, contained in a report released in June 1992, were conditional on the High Court's resolution, but can now be enacted.

Under it, parties, candidates, and third parties must disclose publicly donations and expenditure annually on April 30 each year, or 120 days after polling-day.

Donations to be disclosed are, for political parties, single or multiple donations that sum to $1000 or more and for candidates, donations of $200 or more.

Likewise parties must declare expenditure amounts of $1000 or more, including payments for advertising, the holding of rallies, travel and accommodation, research, telephone costs, postage, and the printing and distribution of election material.

Unfortunately, EARC's recommendations are yet to be implemented, and therefore all details of party income and expenditure for this election will not be available, at least to the degree envisaged by EARC.

Yet there is one saving grace that will provide the Queensland public with a register of donations.

This is the recent change to federal disclosure laws, a change which will also apply to federally registered parties that contest state elections.

The federal law makes no distinction between money donated to parties for federal and state election campaigns. After all, there is no way of telling where someone's individual donation will end up after it enters the party's coffers.

The law now requires parties to disclose all donations and gifts in excess of $1,500 within 20 weeks of the 30th June in each year.

This means Queenslanders will know eventually who made substantial donations that may have funded the Liberal Party's law and order campaign, and, of course, the identity of donors to the National and Labor parties.

Meanwhile, Liberal Party state director Lynton Crosby estimates the Liberal Party's campaign costed around $225,000, about one twentieth of the $4.5 million he says the Labor Party spent.

He says the Liberal Party expects it can pay for its ads - there will be no rerun of the economic crisis that bedeviled it after the last election.

"Although we advertised heavily the last few days before the blackout, we ran virtually no TV ads for two weeks of the campaign," Mr Crosby said.

"We kept our powder dry as best we could - we can't go out and sell buildings this time."