Page 1737 - Week 05 - Thursday, 8 May 2008
Closer to the election date, the Liberal Party letter-boxed Canberra with two essentially anonymous items: a postcard saying “Send Stanhope a message” and an anti-Greens brochure that incorrectly stated that the Greens policy is to legalise drugs. The Canberra Liberal Party chose not to put the names of its candidates or its own name or its logo on these items. It obviously had its reasons, one of which involves deception. It would appear that an inflammatory or inaccurate brochure has a greater effect when it is not clearly identified with the Liberal Party and its candidates. While Liberal Party members might excuse themselves—by leaving the chamber, as they are doing now—by arguing that the party broke no laws, this issue is about honesty, not legality.
Fortunately in the ACT, parties are required to identify themselves on their material. I am suggesting that the federal electoral law be amended accordingly. But the amendment that I wish to make here is to specify that the identification of the party and candidates responsible for electoral material needs to be clearly legible. Obviously, we can expect some political parties to push the legal line as far as they can. Events have proven that we cannot rely on the probity and personal ethics of political candidates and parties to do the right thing; we must spell it out in minute detail.
I would like to ensure that we do not see a repeat of the situation where the Liberal Party are able to get away with writing “Liberal Party” in pale grey, five-point type, on their election material. It is clearly intended to make it difficult to ascertain who authorised the material. It would be naive to assume that, given the opportunity, they will not do it again.
I commend my amendment to the Assembly and I hope that all these little talkfests going on in the chamber are about parties reappraising their position and deciding to agree to it.
MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (12.24 am): Just briefly, I am pleased to speak in support of Dr Foskey’s amendment; it seems reasonable, the expectation of legibility. I am not as familiar with the instances that Dr Foskey has cited, although some of those materials I vaguely recall. I do not recall the issue about their legibility, but it is an amendment that is reasonable and there ought to be no prospect that people can put out material that is designed to deceive or mislead voters, and a very clear disclosure of those responsible for particular materials ought to be a requirement of the act. So I think what has been put forward to the Assembly makes sense.
MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (12.25 am): The government does not support Dr Foskey’s amendment related to ensuring that authorisation statements are easily legible to anyone reading the matter. The reason for this is that the government considers that this requirement is implicit in the existing scheme, as amended by the bill, and that the amendment really is unnecessary.
It comes down to a matter of interpretation of the bill. But, if an authorisation is required, you have to be able to read it; otherwise it is not an authorisation. So we believe the amendment is unnecessary.