Zali Steggall's bill to 'stop lies in political advertising'

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 14 November 2023
Zali Steggall introducing the bill.

Federal independent MP Zali Steggall has introduced a bill to parliament to stop lies in political advertising.

The Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Voter Protections in Political Advertising) Bill 2023 aims to bring greater integrity to the political process and Steggall is urging all sides of politics to get on board.

“We have laws to protect consumers from misleading advertising, but it’s perfectly legal to lie in a political advertisement. It’s time we protect voters,” said Steggall.

Australian law recognises the importance of protecting consumers from scams and unfounded claims. In consumer advertising, claims need to be true, accurate and based on reasonable grounds and any claims advertised must be able to be proved.

Yet politicians and political advertising are not held to the same standard.

“Misleading and deceptive advertising can lead to scaremongering and distractions getting in the way of a fair debate, so it’s no wonder public trust in politicians has been eroded over time," Steggall said.

Steggall explained that voters of all persuasion want political advertising they can trust, citing a recent Australian Institute poll which showed 87% of voters agree that truth in political advertising laws should be in place in time for the next federal election campaign.

“It’s time the government and opposition acted on their voters’ wishes," Steggall said.

This Bill fills a gap in Australia’s current electoral law by amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act to prohibit misleading and deceptive authorised political advertising by:

  • Prohibiting advertising that contains a statement of fact which is misleading or deceptive to a material extent or is likely to mislead or deceive to a material extent;
  • Prohibiting parties, candidates and campaigners from impersonating or passing off material as being from another candidate;
  • Providing for a complaints process through the Australian Electoral Commissioner who may order a retraction of the statement and/or apology, or alternatively the complaint can be pursued through the courts.
  • Approaches the regulation of political advertising with caution and respect for our constitutional freedom of political communication.

“Freedom of speech comes with responsibility and should not be a free pass for political campaigners and third party organisations to intentionally misinform and lie with impunity," Steggall said.

This style of voter protection legislation is not without precedent. South Australia's truth-in-political-advertising provision has successfully operated since 1985 and survived constitutional and legislative scrutiny.

The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters interim report of the 2022 election also recommended truth in advertising laws be implemented.

“My legislation aims to bring much-needed accountability to the landscape of political advertising in our nation, something I believe is long overdue," Steggall said.

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