Why does Canberra have so many corflutes? And is it just us?

Campbell Rhodes 14 October 2020 20

Parties use corflutes because they work. Probably. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Like the poplar fluff and the swooping magpies, spring elections mean both corflutes and complaints about corflutes. Have you ever wondered, why does Canberra seem to be swamped by these things every election? And is it just us?

Certainly the posters are hard to ignore. Of course, that’s the point – you’re not supposed to ignore them, you’re supposed to pay attention! But why are there so many? Why does it seem like we’re swimming in them?

It comes down to a confluence of three factors: our electoral system, our geography and the culture of Canberra.

The Hare-Clark Five

Canberra uses the Hare-Clark electoral system, and voters choose five members per electorate. Because the voters of each seat have to choose five people, there are more candidates than you’d get in a typical state or federal election.

Because the seats are so small and the candidate pool so large, there’s a glut of advertising around. On top of that, you have to choose all your preferences yourself as each party’s candidates are also running against one another.

One way for a candidate to bust through is name recognition, because there will only usually be a handful of candidates in a seat with any kind of city-wide profile. Everyone else has to hope enough people know them, and the easiest way to do that is to put their name and smiling face in as many places as possible.

READ MORE: Corflute congestion drives a stake through voters’ hearts

Spreading Out

I’ve not counted them and it’s possible we don’t have that many more than you’d find elsewhere, but the corflutes are concentrated so you notice them more. Our seats are some of the smallest in Australia and the posters are crammed in tightly, so they seem overwhelming.

Add to this the way Canberra is laid out. We have town centres, surrounded by suburbs, connected by long arterial roads.

The most common place you see these corflutes is along these major connecting roads like Yamba Drive, the Parkway, or the Monaro. They’re the perfect spots for this kind of advertising – long stretches of blank roadside and no competition for space (except for other corflutes!)

And, of course, we don’t have billboard advertising in Canberra at any other time. That makes the sudden efflorescence of corflutes all the more jarring.

The Bubble

The public sector is the biggest employer in Canberra and a lot of government happens here. While there are plenty of locals who don’t particularly care about the ACT election, the ‘Canberra Bubble’ probably means those that do care tend to care more, and thus the intensity of the advertising is ramped up.

Individual candidates use a lot of social media and direct mail, as well as posters, to get people interested, leaving the TV and radio spots mostly to their leaders and parties. An engaged electorate means there’s more chance a candidate’s message will be heard.

Does it work?

Not a lot of research and analysis is done on ACT elections, and there’s no scientific way to really judge whether or not the corflute-bombing tactic pays off.

My instinct is that it probably does, because of the aforementioned importance of name recognition. Couple this with a basic tenet of advertising in general, and politics: if it didn’t work, they’d stop doing it.

It’s only for a few more days everyone! Hang in there!

Campbell Rhodes is a Canberra writer and political researcher.

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20 Responses to Why does Canberra have so many corflutes? And is it just us?
russianafroman russianafroman 10:37 pm 17 Oct 20

Election’s over, time to get rid of these things. If we’re actually allowed I’ll gladly take some of those stakes for my tomato bushes.

Sacha Blumen Sacha Blumen 2:09 pm 17 Oct 20

Name recognition is everything for individual candidates in ACT elections due to the Hare Clark system and there are few opportunities for candidates to have their name appearing in public. Candidates are also competing against their party colleagues.

maxblues maxblues 1:52 pm 15 Oct 20

South Australia has already banned the use of political corflutes. Its about time ACT did the same.

Avril Pounds Avril Pounds 7:28 am 15 Oct 20

I was in Wellington NZ four years ago at the same time they had an election. Not a corflute to be seen either on the roadsides or on a nearby voting center.

Jann Cox Jann Cox 11:37 pm 14 Oct 20

Plus they're a traffic hazard!!

Alix O'Hara Alix O'Hara 5:47 pm 14 Oct 20

Three things.

In reverse order:

1. Haha that if something didn't work, that pollies would stop doing it. That's how business and marketing works. Career politicians have other motives and lower values on economies of effort and you know it 😆

2. The public sector is not the biggest employer:

As of 2019, two thirds, or 144,000 people are employed or self-employed in private enterprise.

This has important implications for economic diversification and "job creation".

Jobs ain't created by government, and true leadership roles, i.e. leaders that create leaders, almost never are nowadays. The most purposeful jobs come from private industry.

3. The proliferation of corflutes is result of the confluence of four things:

• Our electoral system,

• our geography,

• the culture of Canberra,

° *And the local media* °

If we had better coverage of the minor parties policies - or any at all for that matter - we would neither be bombarded with endless regurgitations of the same pedestrian ideas and one-upmanship from the majors,

Nor would we need to put up so many if we could be confident that everyone knew our name.

8008s 8008s 4:53 pm 14 Oct 20

Such a glass half empty article! So many for the stakes and corflute:

tomato stakes
lining sheds
building play houses and huts
temporary flooring
covering broken windows
DIY signs
props and theatre sets
paint boards for kids
snow sledding and more!

    8008s 8008s 4:54 pm 14 Oct 20


    russianafroman russianafroman 8:19 pm 14 Oct 20

    Yeah but the majority aren’t being used for those purposes and instead are ending up in water catchments and strewn all over the road after people deliberately hit them

Anthony Briscoe Anthony Briscoe 3:36 pm 14 Oct 20

Let’s see how long it takes for them to be collected after this weekend Last election they were left for weeks. Each candidate should be charged for each one with their image

    Rob Calvert Rob Calvert 1:35 am 15 Oct 20

    Disagree with this comment. I absolutely hate the signs and think they should be banned for all the reasons others have listed. However there are very severe fines for electoral signs left after polling and generally the lackeies collect them immediately after the poles close. If you see any after polling day REPORT them to TAMS, a few hefty fines will at least enforce their strict removal.

Acton Acton 2:52 pm 14 Oct 20

Those of us who take an ongoing interest in local issues know who we are going to vote for and are not going to be persuaded by conflutes. But the majority of Canberra voters don’t really care and will always vote for the same party because it gives them a warm inner glow of self delusional moral superiority, irrespective of the merits of their chosen party or candidates. Those who always vote Labor will remember the names on the red conflutes and those who always vote Liberal will remember the names on the blue conflutes.

Kathy Schneider Kathy Schneider 2:36 pm 14 Oct 20

There’s also a lot of wide grass verges on either side of the major roads with no dwellings or businesses built along them or dense National Parks on either side. Conditions you don’t find in Sydney or many parts of NSW.

Spiral Spiral 2:03 pm 14 Oct 20

Political advertising can work against candidates too,
I’ve seen a trailer being towed around Molonglo promoting a particular candidate.
I’ve also seen it and its vehicle parked on the side of the road for extended periods of time.
I’m not suggesting they are doing anything illegal at all, but to me it seems like a way of getting around the restrictions on roadside advertising.

That sends a message that the candidate is very willing to push the limits of the letter of the law while going against the spirit of the law.

Not really the attitude I want in an elected representative (and yes most if not all politicians could be described like that, but such blatant actions sit poorly with me).

Every time I see that trailer on the side of the road, the chances of me voting for that candidate drops.

    JS9 JS9 2:41 pm 14 Oct 20

    Completely agree Spiral, but doesn’t seem to have harmed the current MLA whose vehicles became notorious a campaign or (probably two now) ago for being caught multiple times on the old ‘bad parking’ threads on Riotact.

Ben Roberts Ben Roberts 1:31 pm 14 Oct 20

Could it be because we elect five members per electorate?

Michael Groenhout Michael Groenhout 1:20 pm 14 Oct 20

Because our legislation restricts the use of outdoor advertising.

    Greg Miller Greg Miller 2:14 pm 14 Oct 20

    Michael Groenhout there's also the 100m rule, where no political canvassing is allowed within 100m of a polling place

steve2020 steve2020 12:51 pm 14 Oct 20

I think the proliferation of corflutes has been an aspect of the ACT that has been embraced legally and culturally. ACT tends to be very lenient with roadside corflute advertising compared with councils in other states/territories. Corflute culture is something that is seen as a distinguished part of ACT culture and is emulated in other Australian cities where there had been no corflute culture before. The irony when The Greens call for bans and limits on roadside electoral corflutes is that outside of election campaigns, many of the roadside corflutes across Canberra are for green-left issues and events and their advocacy against electoral corflutes may be more to do with their inability to match the amount of other parties’ corflutes instead of genuine environmental concerns. I do think that repetitive corflutes in the same location, irrespective of party or politician is over-the-top and imbalanced.

    Spiral Spiral 2:48 pm 14 Oct 20

    The Greens don’t seem to have used them this year.

    It shall be interesting to see if that makes any difference to their results.

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