The first six months of 1996 was a time of extensive reworking of the Act Party, yet Act continued to rate below the significant 5% figure in opinion polls. The resulting desperation brought on a second phase of reinvention, when four months prior to the 1996 general election the party leadership contracted the Australian political and public affairs consultancy company, the Kortlang Group, to help them in a last throw of the dice attempt to re-configure the party. Ian Kortland, who specialised in helping smaller political parties, worked with Act right through to the 1996 election and then subsequently during the 1999, 2002 and 2005 elections. [Read more below]
In an audit of the party’s general health, the Kortlang Group confirmed that organisationally, Act was ready to fight the election (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.48). However, the audit also stressed that the party had a problem of being perceived as ‘a "boutique" party of "policy wonks". Apparently Act needed to identify a target market among voters and to make contact with them beyond appealing to policy alone’ (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1998: p.49).
The consultants encouraged the party to increase its use of professional research techniques in order to further tailor the party to public opinion. Focus groups were subsequently set up by the party managers to aid them in developing their election campaign.
The Kortlang consultants are widely acknowledged as having a significant impact on Act’s image during the election campaign. Most of all, ‘the consultants helped turn the party's image from a loyal members'-only affair to a stable, right-of-centre reality' (Heeringa, 1996: p.27).
Act’s use of the Kortlang Group in the 1990s was part of an international trend, with political parties importing campaign expertise by contracting agencies with experience in other political systems (Bowler and Farrell, 1992: p.228). In the 1996 election it was Act that was most heavily reliant on overseas experts. According to Act staffers Fraser and Zangouropoulos, the Kortlang Group ‘had extensive knowledge in third party campaigning, having worked successfully with the Democrats in Australia and the Liberal Democrats in the United Kingdom, and went on to work closely with ACT leadership, particularly in the final month of the campaign’ (Fraser and Zangouropoulos, 1997: p.48). According to Trotter, Act ‘also relies upon American experts for interpretation of the poll data GAK supplies. These Washington-based entrail readers isolate and correlate the trends in public opinion thrown up by Act's polling' (Trotter, 8 Sep 1999: p.17).
While Ian Kortlang was the most prominent Australian imported consultant for Act, the party also used Nick Stravs from the same firm – notably in 1999. According to Nicola Reid, writing about Act in 2001, Stravs and Kortlang had a very significant impact on the politics of Act:
Stravs was employed to conduct research on the party's potential support base, to generally soften the party's image, and to help raise campaign funds. As a result the extreme ideas on which Douglas founded the party were neatly tucked away and replaced by carefully constructed messages on crime, justice, welfare, and bureaucratic excess. Stravs has commented that getting the wording right is vital. Accordingly, Act's messages during the campaign were simple and repeated frequently, like mantras. On welfare, it was "a hand up not a hand out", on justice, Act would "get tough on crime" with "truth in sentencing", and on the Treaty, Act promised to achieve "fair, full and final treaty settlements" (Reid, 2001: p.268).
Apparently, Stravs’ polling exercises ‘identified the rural vote as a key block of potential support, and found that treaty issues and law and order were areas of intense concern for the party's target group of centre-right voters. Consequently these issues took precedence over the party's more traditional economic messages in policy releases in the lead-up to the  election’ (Reid, 2001: p.268).
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