'Vile' debate to play out as election ad rules won’t apply to postal plebiscite

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 11 August 2017
Bill Shorten

As the announced postal vote on same-sex marriage is being run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), and not the electoral commission, normal rules around advertising and political campaigning, do not apply.

This will open the floodgates to “hurtful filth” being spewed by the parties and supporters of the ‘No’ campaign, said opposition leader Bill Shorten, speaking in parliament yesterday (10 August).

He issued an impassioned speech, attacking Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over the decision to launch a $122 million postal vote.

His scathing address outlined that because the postal vote will not be held to the same standards as an official election, the usual rules that apply to election advertising do not apply, which would allow the “vile” debate to play out on multiple media channels.

“Yesterday we learned the Australian electoral rules won’t even apply to this vote. There will be no protection against electoral fraud, bribery, intimidation or interference, or the publishing of misleading and deceptive materials ... Who can forget that pathetic, red-faced tantrum from the Prime Minister on election night when he sooked about one text message? Now he’s giving his blessing to billboards, websites, pamphlets, TV advertising, and online material,” said Shorten.

"It will vilify and demean LGBTI Australians and their children. This vile [debate] will end up in the playground, the school yard and the sports field. The slogans will be shouted at the children of same-sex couples. Young people who are gay will be confronted on social media every day.

"Prime Minister, I loathe the trolls and the haters, but I expected more from you. I hold you responsible for every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash.”

A pledge from advertising people not to work on campaigns from the ‘No’ side of the argument is gaining pace and now has more than 350 names in just one day. It was launched by The Royals and the agency's creative partner Nick Cummins says: “Luckily we can do something. After all, we are in the business of making messages. Imagine if every agency, production company, sound designer or illustrator said No to working on these harmful ads. Imagine then our friends in media also standing up and saying No to the No campaign. And brands also joining in to pledge that no harmful ads will appear on their sites or channels.” 

Read more on the rules that come into effect during an official election.  

Shorten said the money could be better spent on teachers, beds for the homeless and healthcare and said it showed weak leadership from Turnbull.

“Strong leaders, don’t have to say they are strong. Strong leaders, lead,” jabbed Shorten, adding that he holds Turnbull personally responsible for every “hurtful bit of filth" spawned by the ‘No’ campaign and the hurt it will cause the LGBTI community - and society more broadly.

"You are the leader Mr Turnbull, you have given permission. I will never hold you in the same light ever again. I hold the Prime Minister responsible and the Australians will too."

Turnbull has in the past voiced his own personal support of marriage equality, but is sticking to a pledge made by his predecessor Tony Abbott.

While labour is against the postal vote, he urged voters not to boycott it. Instead, vote in droves for ‘yes’.

Many have also pointed out that the ABS, which handled the recent census, experiences a massive outage which rendered the public unable to complete the census online. News.com.au is reporting Labor Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek as describing the ABS as “the people who brought you the census debacle”.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is waging an all out war over the issue, attempting to link it with freedom of speech and freedom of religion. 

Here are some of the normal election rules:


A blackout period is enforced for election advertising and ACMA issues guidelines around broadcasting of political and election matters and the content of electronic communications for broadcasters, political parties and election candidates, advertisers and the general public. Here are some key points:

Clause 3A of Schedule 2 to the Broadcasting Services Act requires that a broadcaster must not broadcast an election advertisement from the end of the Wednesday before the polling day until the close of the poll on polling day. The election advertising blackout only applies to broadcasters. It does not include online services and print media.


The Spam Act 2003 prohibits the sending of ‘unsolicited commercial electronic messages’ including email, SMS and MMS messages.

Who is responsible for what?

ACMA is responsible for the regulation of political and election matter in the broadcast media under the Broadcasting Services Act, it is not responsible for making or administering rules about the authorisation of electoral advertisements (this is regulated by the Australian Electoral Commission [AEC]), determining whether an election or political advertisement is misleading or untrue, or dealing with complaints about false or defamatory statements about the personal character or conduct of a candidate. The AEC has responsibility for the regulation of election advertising under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.

Extra advertisements:

Clause 5.3.3 (b) of the code provides that, between 6pm and midnight during an election period, commercial free-to-air networks are allowed to broadcast an additional minute of non-program matter but the additional minute must comprise political matter and the network must provide a summary of all relevant non-program matter to Free TV Australia for public release.

Truth in political advertising:

Unsurprisingly, a wealth of complaints are usually made around election advertising, particularly around the truth and accuracy of ads and misleading claims. The adjudication of complaints about political and election material is outside the charter of the board. Currently, according to the ASB's website, there is no legal requirement for the content of political advertising to be factually correct. It advises complainants to raise their concerns with the advertiser directly and local MPs.

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Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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