With just over a year until the Brisbane City Council elections, newsrooms in this city are grappling with a quadrennial dilemma – how much space or airtime to give the Opposition’s Lord Mayoral candidate? The question arises because the Opposition’s Lord Mayoral candidate is not the same as the Leader of the Opposition. Usually, for reasons I will outline, he or she is not even an elected councillor. So, who should speak for the Opposition? Its Lord Mayoral candidate or its leader? And does the answer change as we get closer to the March 2012 election?
Let me explain how we come to have this situation in Brisbane. Our Lord Mayor is directly and popularly elected – just like the US President – not chosen by the winning party’s councillors. If a councillor wants to run for Mayor, it’s sudden death. To run, they must relinquish their seat or ward. Hence, the practice is for the Opposition – currently the ALP – to put forward an outsider for the top job. Greg Rowell was Labor’s candidate in 2008. Four years earlier, Campbell Newman was brought in by the Liberals to oust sitting Labor Lord Mayor Tim Quinn. For the March 2012 poll, Labor has named businessman Ray Smith (interviewed in bmag’s last issue, 22 February).
Naturally Labor wants Mr Smith to receive maximum exposure over the next 12 months, so he is now being offered to the media to comment on council matters. At the same time, Cr Shayne Sutton is the ALP’s elected Opposition Leader in the chamber. At some point, you will want to hear from the man who aspires to wear the mayoral robes. Even today, 12 months out from the election, if Ray Smith makes a specific promise about what he would do as Lord Mayor, then you would expect the media to report that. But last month, when council was accused of misspending flood recovery money, the media release I received was full of quotes from Ray Smith and none from Shayne Sutton. Sure enough, when I sat down to watch the evening news, there was the Opposition’s Lord Mayoral candidate and not the Opposition Leader.
Now you might ask – why don’t reporters just by-pass Mr Smith and only seek the views of Cr Sutton? Let’s just say the parties are well practised at putting forward their preferred spokespeople. The Brisbane media faced this dilemma when Campbell Newman was pre-selected by the Liberal Party two years before the 2004 election. And it will inevitably surface again in the lead up to the 2016 poll, whichever side is in power at the time. Who do you think should speak for the Opposition?
In response to my column in bmag’s last issue and my proposed ad campaign encouraging children to stop their parents pirating movies and TV shows, Tim puts me in my place with this email: “Being a young adult who has downloaded many, many TV shows, most of those while still a child, children are generally the ones educating their parents, showing them the best ways to download pirated material. I showed my mother how to do it.”