Political advertising laws needed before referendum, says RSA

Si Gladman / 13 February 2023

The upcoming referendum on Indigenous recognition in the Constitution and a Voice to parliament adds urgency to the need for truth-in-political-advertising laws, the Rationalist Society of Australia has told the Albanese government.

Earlier this month, the RSA wrote to the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, to urge him to prioritise legislating for new federal laws to prohibit misleading or deceptive political advertising.

RSA president Dr Meredith Doig pointed to the explosion of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) tactics already being used to sway voters on the question of Indigenous recognition and the Voice.

Late last year, Independent member for Warringah Zali Steggall warned the parliament that referenda were particularly vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation, and pointed to the Brexit vote as a prime example.

In her letter, Dr Doig urged Mr Dreyfus either to support Ms Steggall’s private member’s bill, the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Stop the Lies) Bill 2022, or introduce a similar bill.

“We have been alarmed by the amount of misinformation and disinformation already being promulgated to stoke fear, uncertainty and doubt in communities across Australia in regard to the Voice to parliament,” she said.

“We agree with Independent member for Warringah Zali Steggall that the upcoming referendum on indigenous recognition in the Constitution and a Voice to parliament adds extra urgency to the need for such laws at the federal level.

“Reforming political advertising laws would enhance and improve the integrity of our democracy by providing for more rational and factual public discourse at elections and referenda, and by allowing voters to make informed decisions.”

Last November, the RSA told a parliamentary inquiry that laws prohibiting deceptive and misleading political advertising were urgently needed to promote rational debate and allow voters to make informed decisions.

While the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 makes it a criminal offence to mislead or deceive a voter in respect of the mechanics of casting a vote, it is perfectly legal for political candidates and parties to deploy deliberately deceptive and misleading advertising without facing legal penalties.

The submission noted that this year’s election was an example of yet another campaign marred by advertisements based on blatant falsehoods.

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Photo: Mark Dreyfus (Facebook)

All the more reason.