LNP leader Deb Frecklington loses valuable Queensland election campaign time on needless fundraising controversy
The question haunting Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington is why on Earth did she think it was a good idea to hold fundraisers with property developers present?
It's a question with serious implications — under Queensland law, property developers are prohibited from donating to any political party.
Ms Frecklington's responses yesterday were mostly defensive diversions — politicians meet all sorts of people, the rules are complicated and the LNP hasn't broken any laws.
That could all be true, but the revelations about Ms Frecklington's series of meetings with prohibited donors has sucked all the oxygen out of at least one day of campaigning — time she can ill afford to lose.
And it's a sign the rift between the Opposition Leader and her the party's organisational wing, exposed so dramatically in a showdown last June, hasn't completely healed.
The ABC revealed yesterday that Ms Frecklington took part in five events in July and August involving party donors — some but not all occasions were officially called a "fundraiser", but all of them had at least one property developer present.Warning issued by LNP state director
After the last of these events, LNP state director Michael O'Dwyer issued a warning to all MPs and candidates about the political dangers of having property developers present at fundraisers and private functions.
"To ensure full compliance with the legislation and to avoid any perception that the event is a fundraiser attended by prohibited donors, please ensure that prohibited donors are NOT invited to private events and you avoid any such events where it is known that prohibited donors will be in attendance," Mr O'Dwyer said in the August 23 internal party memo.
The LNP referred the matter to the Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) in early September.
Ms Frecklington's response to these revelations yesterday was to minimise — denying that she personally had been referred to the ECQ.
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"I attend dinners all the time — I'm a politician and I attend supporter's dinners, of course I do," Ms Frecklington said.
"The party routinely seeks advice from the ECQ because the donation laws that have been put in place by the Labor Party are complex.
"There are various matters that the party have advised me that they wrote to the ECQ to seek that advice, and there is nothing untoward about that — I stand by my integrity."
Although the Opposition Leader said she would "fully comply" with Mr O'Dwyer's memo, Ms Frecklington also appeared to contradict the gist of his argument.
"Anyone can attend an event, anyone can attend — you go to the ECQ website and fundraising event, but let's make it really clear, property developers cannot contribute because they are prohibited donors," she said.
The unexpected usually pops up during an election campaign — Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appeared ill-prepared for questions on Sunday about whether her controversial former deputy Jackie Trad would return to cabinet.
After first refusing to speculate, Ms Palaszczuk changed her position less than 24 hours later by announcing Ms Trad would stay on the backbench if Labor won the October 31 poll.'I have other priorities'
The prohibited donor controversy has forced Ms Frecklington into a similar policy reversal.
On Monday, Ms Frecklington refused to answer questions about whether an LNP government would scrap Labor's property developer donation ban.
"I have other priorities," was Ms Frecklington's brusque response.
The following day, she quickly deflected a question about whether she would like to scrap these laws with a simple "no".
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That's quite a concession — the LNP has long argued the donor ban, introduced by the Palaszczuk Government 2018, was unfair and unreasonable, despite being a recommendation by the Crime and Corruption Commission.
Mr O'Dwyer even went as far in his August memo to describe the law as "undemocratic".
The fact that Ms Frecklington has apparently locked the LNP into maintaining the prohibited donor laws if it wins government is a sign of just how keen the Opposition is to get this controversy behind them.