Developers unfairly made to sound like crooks
It is a sad day for our state when an entire industry is systematically vilified as if they were no different to criminals, such as outlaw motorcycle gangs. And yet this is the situation property developers found themselves in yesterday, when the election campaign was taken over by an apparent assumption that they are all somehow crooks.
To the contrary. Developers are a critical part of the Queensland economy, and the activities they undertake generate a huge amount of direct and indirect jobs - from the construction workers on sites to the people employed in hardware stores. So critical is their work to our prosperity that successive premiers have used the so-called "crane index" as an informal measure of their own success in stewarding the state's economy.
But that same development industry is now being routinely slandered thanks to unfair laws brought in two and a half years ago by the Labor Palaszczuk government banning political parties from accepting donations from any property developer or associated industry body.
Given the vast bulk of developer donations prior to the ban flowed to the coffers of the LNP, the laws are nothing short of a financial gerrymander - akin in their potential impact to the electoral manipulation undertaken by the corrupt Bjelke-Petersen regime.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has repeatedly pointed towards recommendations made by the Crime and Corruption Commission following its Operation Belcarra sting as the reason why these laws were introduced. But the CCC never recommended a ban on developer donations at a state level, something the watchdog's chair Alan MacSporran QC was at pains to point out in his submission when the laws were making their way through Parliament.
But the second-term Labor government proceeded anyway, knowing it had been gifted a golden opportunity to harm its chief political opponent's ability to compete on a level playing field during election campaigns.
For context, just imagine for a moment if it had been an LNP government that had banned unions from donating or undertaking third-party campaigning during elections - based, for example, on the damning royal commission findings. The howls from Labor would be deafening - and correctly so, as a law like that would infringe on its ability to participate fairly in the democratic process.
Now sure, there have been a few bad eggs in the property game exposed over the years. And yes, it does make sense to ban donations at a local government level - where there is far less scrutiny than at the state level over planning decisions. But there was no justifiable excuse for the imposition of this law at the state level (just ask the CCC boss).
Yet as ridiculously unfair as this law is, it is now law - and so all political parties have to abide by it until and if a future government changes the legislation.
This is the first state election campaign where the ban has been in place. And that saw the campaign yesterday descend into a farcical game of political "gotcha" - where merely meeting with property developers was held up as a sin.
Here are the facts as we know them: Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington attended a series of lunches and dinners this year at which property developers were in attendance. There is no evidence yet uncovered that any of the developers donated directly to the LNP, or funnelled donations through a non-prohibited donor.
The existence of these laws means that - politically - Ms Frecklington should probably have avoided the functions now in the spotlight, or at least checked the guest list more closely.
Her attendance left the LNP really with no choice but to ask the Electoral Commission of Queensland to assess whether these events and the money subsequently contributed by those non-developers who attended were consistent with the rules. Party bosses were correctly concerned about the optics of such events in the lead up to the election.
As far as has been ascertained so far, nothing illegal occurred. However, the mere existence of these laws meant there was enough spooky music for Ms Frecklington's political opponents to make a full day of it yesterday.
Perhaps we should not be surprised, but it is sad that laws literally designed to harm political opponents are being weaponised during an election campaign that should be about far bigger things.
Responsibility for election comment is taken by Chris Jones, corner of Mayne Rd & Campbell St, Bowen Hills, Qld 4006. Printed and published by NEWSQUEENSLAND (ACN 009 661 778). Contact details are available at www.couriermail.com.au/help/contact-us
Originally published as Developers unfairly made to sound like crooks