Labor backs truth in Australian political advertising

Warringah MP Zali Steggall has unveiled a draft bill to crack down on misleading and deceptive political ads. Picture: Geoff Jones
Warringah MP Zali Steggall has unveiled a draft bill to crack down on misleading and deceptive political ads. Picture: Geoff Jones

Labor has voiced its support for a crackdown on misleading political advertising, saying it will help shield Australia's democracy from individuals with "deep pockets" who want to influence elections.

Debate over political advertising laws has rekindled after Independent MP Zali Steggall unveiled a draft bill to ban political players from publishing misleading or deceptive material.

The Warringah MP said gaps in federal laws meant it was "perfectly legal" to lie in election material, which had contributed to an erosion of public trust in politics.

Labor's shadow special minister of state Don Farrell said while the Opposition had yet to see Ms Steggall's draft bill, it was supportive of federal truth in political advertising laws.

"Labor supports truth in political advertising laws, which will enhance the transparency of our electoral processes and improve the integrity of the electoral system," Mr Farrell told The Canberra Times.

"Truth in political advertising laws would also help protect our democracy against individuals with deep pockets, who are prepared to spend up big on advertising designed to influence elections."

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After its infamous "Mediscare" drive at the 2016 election, Labor was the victim of a viral social media campaign which claimed it would introduce a "death tax" under Bill Shorten.

Mr Shorten blamed vested interests and "corporate levianthans" for derailing his election hopes, after billionaire Clive Palmer spent tens of millions of dollars on advertisements attacking the Labor leader during the campaign.

The Morrison government would not comment directly when asked if it supported truth in political advertising laws.

Assistant minister for electoral matters Ben Morton said a parliamentary inquiry into the 2016 election had examined the idea, but found that strengthening authorisation laws was a better way to hold political parties accountable for material they distributed.

Those changes passed Parliament and came into effect in March 2018.

"Authorising electoral material ensures that the person or organisation putting the information into the public domain can be judged by voters and the media, and be held accountable for the claims they make," Mr Morton said.

"It is one of the checks and balances in our electoral system to ensure integrity in our democratic process."

Greens democracy spokeswoman Larissa Waters. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Greens democracy spokeswoman Larissa Waters. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Greens democracy spokeswoman Larissa Waters said her party had long championed truth in political advertising laws.

"Trust in our political system is at an all-time low. False and misleading campaigns like the 'death tax' and 'Mediscare' have undermined the integrity of election campaigns and seriously eroded public faith in political parties," she said.

Senator Waters said they needed to strike a balance to ensure that political parties could still participate in "fair and robust" debate. The Greens would support a parliamentary inquiry into Ms Steggall's bill, she said.

Australia Institute research in 2019 found 84 per cent of Australians backed truth in political advertising laws.

Bill Browne, a senior research at the institute's democracy and accountability program, feared that if laws weren't introduced soon then misleading material would become more prevalent.

"There is a downward spiral at work, as parties see misleading advertising deployed by their opponents it becomes more attractive to use it themselves," he said.

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This story 'Protect our democracy': Labor, Greens back truth in political advertising laws first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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