Sitting members get a head-start in state and federal elections - before voters even head for the polls.
Sitting members get a head-start in state and federal elections - before voters even head for the polls. Renee Albrecht

How sitting MPs get taxpayer-funded head start in elections

IT'S legal but is it fair?

That's the question being asked about a practice, common at both state and federal levels, that give sitting candidates a critical election advantage.

Enrolled voters across Queensland have started to received postal vote application advice from the offices of their state representative.

The cost is funded by the taxpayer through the MPs' Electorate and Communication Allowances of around $63,000 annually and $189,000 over a three-year parliamentary term.

The envelope includes a letter from the Member of Parliament, an Electoral Commission Queensland Postal Vote Application form and a pre-paid priority post envelope addressed to - in the case of a Noosa voter - 'Noosa PVA Centre PO Box 960 Archerfield'.

The application form itself advises the form could be posted, faxed or emailed directly to an Electoral Commission Queensland P.O. Box or completed online.

The intent of the candidate however is for people planning a postal vote to take advantaged of the free postage. By doing so the application goes first to a political party postal box where it is opened providing information about voters who won't attend a polling booth. It is then sent on to the ECQ who post the ballot paper directly to the voter.

The net effect is that incumbents then have the advantage of being able to directly target voters who they know won't attend a polling place.

Professor Clive Bean of Queensland University of Technology said the advantage is real and although minor might be of critical importance in a close contest.

"It definitely gives an advantage to sitting members,” he said.

"It's another plank in the amour of incumbency.

"It's another factor in a system that gives advantage to major parties when minor parties are already struggling for funds and manpower. You could question the ethics of it.”

An ECQ spokesperson said what was being done is allowed under Queensland legislation.

That position has been endorsed by Clerk of the Parliament Neil Laurie who said the practice was "completely and utterly normal” and practised by all political parties.

"It can't have party logo on it and can't say 'vote for me'.”

Otherwise Mr Laurie said it was part of the role of members to inform constituents if they need a postal vote they can arrange it.

He said political parties were always harvesting information from a range of sources.

One MP who has never done it is retiring Nicklin MP Peter Wellington who said the practice was one that while it may be legal was totally unethical.

"It goes close to being contrary to the intent of the funding,” he said.

Mr Wellington said that intent was certainly never to advantage sitting members with taxpayer funds.



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