Taking the big bucks out of Local Government elections

Noosa Mayor Clare Stewart’s costly 2020 mayoral campaign was, in her own words, “money well spent”. The $70,000 price tag for that campaign will, however, be a thing of the past with new electoral expenditure caps likely to come into force in time for the 2024 local government elections.

Here in Queensland, the state government is continuing with its legislative reform agenda for local government, giving effect to the recommendations of the Crime and Corruption Commission’s Operation Belcarra report. The CCC made thirty-one recommendations to strengthen transparency and integrity in local government including new obligations for candidates, councillors, donors, and the Electoral Commission of Queensland itself.

The Queensland Government, in giving effect to the Belcarra recommendations, has gone some way in assuaging the growing public concerns over the lack of appropriate regulation which allows well-heeled individuals, groups and networks to distort the political conversation.

As a result of draft legislation currently before the State Parliament the next local government election (due in March 2024) should be conducted on a more level playing field. The introduction of expenditure caps for Queensland local government elections is a welcome reform to the way councillors are elected.

Subject to legislation passing the State parliament (without significant amendment), sitting and prospective local government candidates, third parties and “associated entities” will be required to conduct their election campaigns within specific expenditure caps.

The establishment of a sliding scale of electoral expenditure caps based on the number of electors in a relevant ward / division or local government area is a welcome reform.

Based on the number of electors enrolled in 2020, Noosa Shire would fall into the Band 2 category which would mean that the expenditure cap for mayoral candidates would be $40,724. In the Noosa Shire candidates for councillor positions would fall within the Band 3 category and would be faced with a $30,000 cap on electoral expenditure.

Reducing the amount of money mayoral and councillor candidates can expend on their election campaigns ensures a more level playing field and will provide more confidence in the electoral process.

In addition to electoral caps for mayor and councillor candidates there will be greater scrutiny of, and obligations for, third parties and “associated entities”. This is no bad thing.

The provisions in the legislation that place a cap on third party electoral expenditure is especially welcome as is the requirement for third party registration. Provisions in the legislation ensure that any associated entities of candidates, groups of candidates and political parties will be captured, and electoral expenditure incurred by an associated entity of a candidate will be treated as though it is incurred by the candidate and subject to the expenditure cap of the candidate.

There has been increasing disquiet in the community over the increasing influence of third parties in the election process whether it be at federal, state, or local level. Measures to make such groups more accountable and their activities more transparent can only be a good thing.

Should the legislation pass – likely, given the bipartisan support for the reforms – sitting and prospective candidates will need to get their act together soon. 


The capped expenditure period commences approximately seven months prior to polling day which translates to the beginning of September this year. This is a sensible provision and should ensure greater fairness and equity. 

All candidates should be able to contest local government elections on a level playing field and not be disadvantaged by the wealthy or those candidates supported by special interest groups.

Time will tell whether the reforms will curtail the influence of those with deep pockets within the community or whether certain groups will attempt to “game “the system.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Can anyone explain how Noosa Council acquired this current dysfunctional non ward based electoral system with a separate election for mayor when a ward based system with the mayor elected from councillors is more usual and superior. Can it be changed?

  2. Avatar

    “Money well spent” for her and her mates keen to exploit and develop maybe. The depth of that slush fund was the only reason she got in… savvy but sh***y

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