Zali Steggall unveils bill to crackdown on misleading political advertising

Warringah MP Zali Steggall has drafted a bill to crackdown on lies and misinformation in political advertising. Picture: Geoff Jones
Warringah MP Zali Steggall has drafted a bill to crackdown on lies and misinformation in political advertising. Picture: Geoff Jones

Political players who make misleading or deceptive statements in election material would be ordered to quickly correct the record under proposed laws to "stop the lies" eroding public trust in Australian democracy.

Independent MP Zali Steggall has unveiled a private members bill to stamp out lies and misinformation in federal election campaigns.

The Warringah MP's proposal would specifically target the use of "deep fake" videos, amid fears the emerging technology could be weaponised to mislead voters.

The "Stop the Lies" bill, modelled on laws already in place in the ACT and SA, comes in response to the "volume of misleading and deceptive advertising" which has plagued recent federal election campaigns.

Labor's so-called "Mediscare" drive in 2016, the "Death Tax" social media scare campaign and the Liberal Party's use of Chinese-language corflutes designed to look like Australian Electoral Commission signage at the last federal election have been cited as prominent recent examples.

Ms Steggall said under existing Australian laws it was "perfectly legal" to lie in a political advertisement.

"Public trust in politicians has been eroded over time, some of that erosion is due to their propensity to lie and the lack of accountability," she said.

"There is legislation that prevents misleading and deceptive advertisements by businesses and there are enforcement bodies in place to keep an eye on it. But there is no law or body to stop politicians or third parties from lying about a candidate or their opponent during an election campaign."

Signs referring to a "Death Tax" were displayed in the ACT during the 2019 federal election campaign. Picture: Supplied

Signs referring to a "Death Tax" were displayed in the ACT during the 2019 federal election campaign. Picture: Supplied

The proposed amendments to Commonwealth Electoral Laws would ban advertising material which contains misleading or deceptive statements.

It would explicitly prohibit politicians, candidates or campaigners from impersonating another person, including through the use of "deep fake" videos. The videos use artificial intelligence to re-create and imitate a person's physical appearance or voice.

The Australian Electoral Commission would have the power to order the offending individual or party to stop publishing the material, retract the statement or correct the record.

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Ms Steggall called on the major parties to back her proposal, if not for the sake of democracy then to shield themselves from misinformation attacks by prominent third party political players.

A 2019 study from progressive think tank The Australian Institute found that 84 per cent of Australians backed laws to crackdown on misleading political advertising.

SA was first jurisdiction to pass truth in political advertising laws, with the ACT following suit late last year.

The ACT's laws came into effect on July 1, but won't be put to the test until the next territory election in 2024.

The ACT Electoral Commissioner Damian Cantwell had called on the government to delay the implementation of the new regime, amid concerns that his office could be seen as politically partisan when called on to investigate complaints.

Ms Steggall said the inherent independence of the electoral commission meant it was the appropriate authority for the role.

She hoped to introduce the bill to parliament in October.

This story 'Stop the lies': New bill to target misleading and deceptive political ads first appeared on The Canberra Times.