The expected is never quite as
devastating as the unexpected, so the Queensland Liberal Party is less
dispirited after the results of the Brisbane City Council election than it
deserves to be. For some failure is becoming a comfortable habit.
The result is the worst ever for the party in the city council. In each
of the previous two elections it has lost one seat. This time it decided
to outperform and lost 2. It now holds just 8 wards out of 26. In terms of
the mayoral vote it appears to have improved on the 1997 result by about
1% - close to a statistical dead heat.
So why the poor performance? The reasons are obvious. No money, too
many messages (and none of them right), too little manpower, incompetent
management, and constant internal faction fighting. The party is no longer
capable of making a connection with its constituency. The more interesting
question is what can it do about it?
For a start it should admit its failure. The party suffers from a
public perception of weakness. That perception is heightened when party
leaders blame internal dissidents speaking out publicly or the ALP’s
massive spend for their result. The Public knows that these are not the
reasons and sees the Party as even weaker because it will not acknowledge
There are a number of aspects to the lack of money. There is a massive
imbalance in wealth between the non-Labor and Labor parties in Queensland.
The Queensland ALP is the beneficiary of some long past financial acumen
with an investment fund that 8 years ago was estimated to have $22 Million
in it. Added to that, electoral disclosure laws have made it more
difficult to raise corporate donations, while leaving union donations
almost unaffected. What corporate donors there are hedge their bets. In a
council election they tend to be in the property industry and easier for
the incumbent to tap, especially if they think he will win and be in a
continuing position to review their development applications.
All of these are given, and most of them are the challenges that any
Opposition must overcome. And they have been overcome in the past by a
combination of disciplined fundraising and clever campaigning. It is not
necessary to spend $2M to counter a $2M campaign. In the 1995 State
Election the Coalition did it with a joint campaign of just $500,000,
because it got its message precisely right and delivered it surgically,
while the ALP sprayed their $2M all over the place.
The internal faction fighting is another matter. It is not the problem
- it is a symptom of the problem. Campaigns which are well managed and
achieving their goals minimise faction fighting. Ones like the last one
merely exacerbate it. When Party President, the dapper Con Galtos,
threatens to expel people who speak out, the public aren’t duped. They
know that the threat is directed selectively at those who disagree with
him. If the party really believed that people who talk to journalists
should be expelled, then Mr Galtos himself would be one of the first to
go, followed closely by Immediate Past President Bob Carroll and Santo
Santoro and just about anyone else of any eminence.
The next thing that it needs to do is to fix its factional problem. The
Queensland Liberal Party only has one faction – that of Santo Santoro.
It is organised along ALP lines with its leadership meeting regularly and
making decisions which are then implemented by its rank and file soldiers.
The rest of the party tends to coalesce around former Party President Bob
Tucker, but this is a loose alliance. It is defined mostly by opposition
to Santoro and contains the remnants of the small "l" Liberals
who used to control the party.
Santoro has been in and out of a position of control of the party 3
times since 1983. The first was briefly as the original enforcer for John
Moore when he replaced John
Herron as State President after the 1983 State election debacle. He
then turned on Moore, eventually replacing him with the disastrous Bill
Everingham who was succeeded by his cousin Paul. This second period almost
culminated in the party being taken over by the National Party. The third
period started in 1997 with Bob Carroll, followed by Con Galtos.
So evenly poised have the groupings been for most of this time that
when Santoro first attempted to install Bill Everingham he was seen off by
John Moore at the 1988 Convention with a margin of just 5 votes out of
approximately 550. When Paul Everingham resigned in 1994 Santoro backed
Galtos. Tucker beat him in an Executive ballot by 1 vote out of a total of
There is a parallel to the position in which the Queensland Liberal
Party now finds itself, and that is with the Queensland Labor Party in the
late 70’s and early 80’s. In 1974 Queensland Labor was reduced to 11
seats out of 82 in the State Parliament, and in 1975 it lost every Federal
seat that it held apart from Oxley. Its only success was in the Brisbane
City Council where, in 1973, Clem Jones won all but one ward against the
Citizens Municipal Organisation. (The Liberal Party did not contest
civic elections then). The faction fighting was extreme with current State
Beattie, locked out of the Party’s Breakfast Creek Headquarters. He
set up an alternative administration in the CBD. The ALP ordered federal
intervention, and new factions formed which helped balance the competing
Dr Dennis Murphy, an academic became President, and he and Beattie set
about modernising the party, and recruiting candidates like Wayne
Goss who were more in tune with the times. By 1989 it had the best
campaigning capacity of any Queensland Party, and that continues today.
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