The ACT Greens want the ACT to become the second jurisdiction in Australia to have truth in political advertising laws before 2020 ACT election campaigns begin on 1 January.
ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur is proposing to amend the Electoral Act to include provisions that make it illegal to “disseminate political material or advertising that is factually incorrect” during the upcoming election campaign.
Since the 1980s, South Australia has been the only jurisdiction in Australia with truth in political advertising laws. The laws allow local constituents to make a complaint about disseminated political material to the SA Electoral Commission.
The commission can decide whether the offending material should be removed and whether a retraction should be published. The maximum penalty for materially inaccurate and misleading advertising is $5,000 for individuals or $25,000 for a body corporate but offences are rarely prosecuted.
The SA Electoral Commission has received complaints about inaccurate and misleading advertising in each of the last six elections and requested at least one withdrawal or retraction each time.
Under current ACT and federal electoral legislation, ‘deceptive conduct’ is prohibited when voters cast their vote, with fraudulent how-to-vote cards banned from polling booths. However, the ACT Greens would like to see laws expanded to the entire election campaign, which is set to begin on 1 January.
Ms Le Couteur said adopting truth in political advertising laws would only cover authorised political advertising where matters of fact were in dispute.
“Our proposal will stop political parties and candidates outright lying regarding matters of fact during election campaigns,” Ms Le Couteur said. “Voters should be able to go to the polls knowing exactly who and what they’re voting for.
“At the last federal election, the Coalition claimed that Labor was planning to introduce a death tax, which they were not. More recently and locally the Canberra Liberals have made erroneous claims about the ACT Government’s Climate Strategy.
“Should these changes to the Electoral Act be adopted by the Assembly, such claims would not be allowed to be made in endorsed political advertising during the election period.”
The ACT Greens proposed truth in political advertising laws after the 2016 Election but the ACT Electoral Commission said that such laws are difficult to enforce and could be “exploited”. Ms Le Couteur admitted that it was unlikely that the Electoral Commission will agree to their current proposal.
“I am not expecting the ACT Electoral Commission to be hugely in favour of this,” Ms Le Couteur said. “It is very unlikely they will support it but we need to do everything we can to increase the trust in our Government.”
The Australian Institute said Australians overwhelmingly support the introduction of truth in political advertising laws after their 2019 survey found that 84 per cent of respondents were in favour of such legislation.
Support was similar across all major parties, with 85 per cent of Coalition voters, 84 per cent of Labor voters and 87 per cent of Greens voters all supporting the legislation.
Most respondents supported fines (62 per cent) and forcing publications to retract claims (60 per cent) as penalties to factually incorrect political advertising, while 42 per cent supported criminal charges.