Pressure is mounting for stronger electoral accountability laws in the ACT, with the release of an open letter coordinated by The Australia Institute (TAI) and signed by fifteen prominent Australians calling on the ACT Legislative Assembly to pass truth in political advertising laws before the upcoming October election (attached).
The letter is signed by a number of former political party leaders and politicians, former Supreme Court judges, as well as barristers, community leaders, business people and other prominent Australians.
It comes as an ACT Greens proposal to ban factually incorrect electoral material during local elections will soon go before the Legislative Assembly.
Under current ACT and federal electoral legislation, ‘deceptive conduct’ is prohibited when voters cast a vote. For example, fraudulent how-to-vote cards are banned under existing law.
However, the ACT Greens would like to see laws around protecting our democratic integrity expanded. The Greens are proposing to amend the Electoral Act to include provisions similar to those that exist in South Australia that make it illegal to disseminate political material or advertising that is factually incorrect during the election period.
South Australia is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia with truth in political advertising laws.
Adopting similar legislation in the ACT would only cover authorised political advertising where matters of fact were in dispute.
The SA legislation allows local constituents to make a complaint about any party political material that’s disseminated in any way to the SA Electoral Commission. The Commission can then make a ruling to publish a correction or remove the offending material.
The SA law has also withstood a challenge to its constitutionality. The South Australian Supreme Court ruled that the legislation did not impede the High Court’s implied freedom of political communication, as it related to facts - rather than ideas.
Comments attributable to ACT Greens Democracy Spokesperson, Caroline Le Couteur MLA:
“The Greens welcome this open letter from a number of prominent Australians, who know - like so many other Australians - that we can restore faith in our democracy if voters know exactly who and what they’re voting for.
“Our proposal will stop political parties and candidates outright lying in relation to matters of fact during election campaigns.
Comments attributable to Emma Davidson, ACT Greens Democracy Campaign Spokesperson:
“At the last federal election the Coalition claimed that Labor was planning to introduce a death tax, which they were not.
“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.
“This won’t stop politicians misleading people, but it’s a step in the right direction.”