Funding law thwarts Democrats

by Chris Griffith
Published 13 August 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Confusion was expected at some polling booths yesterday following a decision by 11 Australian Democrat candidates to jettison their 'Democrat' label and run officially as independents.

Of 32 Democrat candidates, 11 had decided to register as independents to avoid an inconsistency in Queensland's new public funding laws which would have robbed them of thousands of dollars of public funding for their campaigns.

As a result, the names of the 11 appeared on ballot papers without the 'Democrat' label beside their name.

Democrats' campaign director Tony Walters said he was concerned the confusion could cause problems in marginal seats such as Albert, Springwood, and Redlands.

An amendment to the Electoral Act last year means registered political parties and independent candidates can for the first time claim a $1.08 in public funding for every primary vote they receive as reimbursement for campaign costs, provided they attract a minimum four percent support.

Based on 1992 voting returns, it was expected that after this election the ALP would receive around $790,000, the National Party around $380,000, and the Liberal Party around $330,000. The electoral commission said it expected to pay out in total around $1.6 million.

But the state government added the unusual requirement that Queensland's registered political parties had to notify the electoral commission of their intentions to seek funding the year before the election.

The government never justified this rule, however when it was introduced it immediately neutered the National and Liberal Partys' long-term opposition to public funding, as they were compelled straight away to lodge applications. The government's cries of hypocrisy ended the Coalition's public protest.

However the Australian Democrats were also caught in the net. They could not lodge any notice last year, because they were not a registered party in Queensland. The Democrats achieved this only in June this year. As a result, no Democrat candidate can claim public funds for their campaign in this election.

But the government's rule applied only to party candidates, not to independents, who could be publicly funded without any need to notify the electoral commission the preceding year. Hence the 11 Democrats have run as independents.

Mr Walters said the party had worked hard to overcome any confusion, especially in Springwood where he said the Democrat vote would be crucial.

"Their decision to run as independents was based on whether they could cover their polling booths. The party would agree only where candidates had invested a lot of time and money and there was a definite need for public funding to reimburse costs."

Mr Walters said other seats affected were Albert, Ashgrove, Burleigh, Cleveland, Gympie, Redcliffe, Redlands, Rockhampton, South Brisbane, and Thuringowa.