Page 1744 - Week 05 - Thursday, 8 May 2008

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Amendment negatived.

Proposed new clause 101A negatived.

Clauses 102 and 103, by leave, taken together and agreed to.

Proposed new clause 103A.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo) (12.52 am): I move amendment No 48 circulated in my name which inserts a new clause 103A [see schedule 2 at page 1783].

I am sorry for annoying Mr Corbell and I am also sorry for people who are here for the next bit of legislation. It just so happens that we have got two really important bits of legislation tonight; despite the late hour, we need to give them both the attention they deserve.

This amendment is in regard to electoral matter and concerns the functions of the commissioner in section 325 of the act. The Greens would like to see the commissioner report annually on any complaints made under section 325, whether the allocations have been investigated or not. At present, the commissioner seems to have a great deal of discretion about which matters to investigate.

There even seems to be a lackadaisical attitude to investigations of misleading or deceptive matter as covered by section 297. The commissioner has stated: “I take the view that the question of how true a political advertisement is is really a matter for judgement for the electors themselves rather than for courts to make.” As I have said before, this is a remarkable statement. I invite the commissioner to correct the record if he no longer stands by this statement.

Misleading the public is something that is difficult or impossible to combat quickly; often the damage is done before any charge can be laid. However, that is no reason to allow it to happen and leave it up to the electorate to remember the fraud at the next election and vote the offender out of office. The damage has already been done. An MLA would have been elected under false pretences and rewarded for that deceit. Being voted into government gives politicians enormous power over the lives of ACT residents. Obtaining that power through misleading voters is something that should be discouraged and punished wherever it occurs.

If this is not a role for the Electoral Commission then whose duty is it? Should voters, once they have found out they have been duped—if they find out—take the matter to court themselves? If this is to be the default position, the ACT government should legislate to give the public clear standing to bring such allegations to court.

My amendment aims to protect the public from unscrupulous parties and individuals who hope to use the heated election environment to dupe voters. The Electoral Commission in the person of the commissioner is best equipped to manage and report on these issues.

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