Whatever your view on marriage equality, there are some
important things you should know about the government's
plebiscite legislation. In short, we the taxpayers will be funding
We've all heard that taxpayer dollars are being used to fund
yes and no campaigns. $15M to be exact. Normally in a referendum,
the government is expressly prohibited from funding the for and
against arguments. So this kind of funding is unusual in
For the plebiscite, the yes and no campaigns will be run by two
committees each comprised of 5 pollies and 5 other individuals.
They are empowered to do all things reasonably necessary to conduct
those campaigns. They have no reporting obligations. The
legislation offers no recourse if they misbehave. And they can
receive payments from any old person (not just the $15M kitty)
without lodging a return disclosing the payments.
The worst part though is that there's absolutely no legal
requirement that the campaign ads are accurate or truthful. We are
paying for the committees to spread outrageous lies if that's
the angle they choose to take.
It's long been a problem with political advertising that
there is no accountability and no recourse when ads aren't
accurate. Normal misleading or deceptive conduct rules only apply
to conduct 'in trade or commerce' which doesn't include
political advertising. Those rules are enacted primarily under the
federal government's Constitutional power to make laws about
trade and commerce.
There isn't a Constitutional power under which the federal
government can readily make laws about misleading political
advertising. However, the plebiscite relates specifically to
marriage. And there is a Constitutional power to make laws with
respect to marriage. Surely this can be used to stitch up some kind
of accountability in relation to this particular plebiscite.
Absent accountability, the marriage equality plebiscite
legislation represents a new low. The potential for harm flowing
from campaign advertising is high. The subject matter is delicate
and more emotive than typical election matter. And yet the
government takes the unprecedented step of funding those campaigns,
with our money, via committees that have zero legal accountability
for their actions or their campaign material. What a joke.
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