What are the rules regarding truth in political advertising in a federal election?

The Australian Electoral Commission has said signs misrepresenting independent candidates who are part of the Greens are in breach of electoral law.

Conservative lobby group Advance Australia has cleared signs showing ACT Senate candidate David Pocock and Warringah candidate Zali Steggall as Greens candidates.

But neither of the two candidates was supported by the party.

Here is the backstory

Placards featuring independent candidate David Pocock first appeared in April.

Mr Pocock slammed the group behind the signs on social media, then filed a formal complaint with the AEC.

At the time, the AEC said its preliminary view was that the corflutes did not violate political advertising laws.

But this week the AEC said the signs, which were also used against Zali Steggall in Warringah, were misleading and should not be displayed.

The AEC also said Advance Australia had agreed not to display the signs to avoid legal action.

Pocock wants Advance Australia to be prosecuted over the signs

Mr Pocock said he was disappointed with the time it took for the AEC to respond to the misleading advertising.

He also wrote to the commission asking Advance Australia to be prosecuted for breaching the Elections Act.

“Obviously this shows how much work we have to do in terms of truth in political advertising,” he said.

“[These signs] were clearly designed to mislead and we should put in place laws that prevent this sort of thing from happening.

“We have them here in the ACT and we have them in South Australia, and they work well.”

So what are the federal rules on truth in political advertising?

The Elections Act does not require truth in election advertising.

What it does is prohibit the printing, publication, or distribution, or cause, allow — or authorize the printing, publication, or distribution — of any material or thing that is likely to mislead or deceive a voter as to the casting of a vote.

A valid defense is if the person can prove that they did not know, or could not reasonably be expected to know, that they were likely to mislead a voter when they voted .

Court cases have clarified that the law only addresses behavior that may affect the voting process, rather than forming a political judgment on how the vote will be cast.

A recent example of “misleading” or “misleading” material

Purple and white posters were placed next to an AEC flag in a polling booth in Melbourne’s Chisholm electorate.(ABC News: Aula Gemma)

In the 2019 federal election, purple and white signs were placed near similarly colored AEC signs at 13 polling stations at Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s headquarters in Kooyong and 29 polling booths at Liberal MP Gladys Liu’s headquarters in Chisholm.

The signs told voters to prefer the Liberal Party first. Written in Mandarin, the signs told voters that “the right way to vote” was to put a “1” next to the Liberal candidate’s name.

The Federal Court found that the signs were misleading or misleading when placed next to the AEC signs.

A composite image of Josh Frydenberg, wearing a suit and tie, and Gladys Liu, wearing glasses and a white blazer
Josh Frydenberg and Gladys Liu have faced challenges in the High Court over their election results.(ABC News)

The court dismissed a challenge to Ms Liu and Mr Frydenberg’s election victories, saying there was “no real chance” the corflutes could have affected the results.

The court also did not refer former Liberal Party Victorian state manager Simon Frost to the High Court, despite admitting the panels were intended to look like AEC material.

South Australia legislates truth in political advertising, so why not federally?

South Australia has had the truth in political advertising since the 1980s.

State election laws make it an office responsible for authorizing or publishing materially inaccurate and misleading election advertisements.

The SA Electoral Commissioner may request that such advertisements be removed from further publication and that a retraction be published.

The penalty is a fine of $5,000 for an individual and $25,000 for a corporation, and an election can even be declared void if the misleading advertising is so serious that the outcome was affected.

For years there have been calls for similar federal laws from across the political spectrum.

A Australia Institute survey found that 85% of Coalition voters, 84% of Labor voters, 87% of Green voters and 88% of One Nation voters supported a proposal.

During the 2019 election campaign, Ms. Steggall called for reform of political advertising laws after adverts by activist group Advance Australia claimed she supported the Labor Party’s postage credits policy.

Liberal MP Jason Falinski also supported truth in political advertising laws, saying, “We have truth in advertising at all levels: it just doesn’t apply to political campaigns.”

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he would look “very closely” at these laws after Labour’s “Medicare” campaign for the 2016 election.

Disinformation groups have highlighted semi-closed social media platforms as risk areas

Esther Chan of First Draft, a misinformation and disinformation research organization, said some stories from this election campaign circulating on social media appear to be American-inspired, including misleading claims about the electoral system and voting processes. vote.

“There is a lot of individual abuse and we don’t know what their targets are but also including political parties, especially smaller parties sharing false claims and conspiracy theories about the electoral system and the voting process,” she said.

“A few weeks ago, a video was posted by One Nation on Facebook containing false allegations of voter fraud and this video has been removed by a number of platforms.

“But there are copies floating around on other platforms that don’t moderate the content because of how they position themselves – those are platforms we’re more focused on because users aren’t truly sure of what is false or misleading.”

Ms Chan said the allegations had been monitored on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, as well as the more private platforms of Telegram and Discord.

“We don’t know how many people actually believe it, but as it gets more viral it’s something to be concerned about.”

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