The Australian Government will today introduce legislation to ensure voters know exactly who is behind political messages attempting to influence their vote.
There are three major changes outlined in the Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017.
First, all paid electoral advertising will now require an authorisation, regardless of the medium used to communicate it. The Australian Electoral Commission will have the power to provide clear instructions on how to authorise communications across various media, which will simplify compliance.
Second, authorisation requirements will extend to electoral communications made by disclosure entities currently regulated by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. These include candidates, political parties and the associated entities of parties such as fundraising groups, as well as donors and campaign or activist groups whose political expenditure exceeds $13,200 per year.
These entities play a prominent role in our political process and are already subject to disclosure requirements under the Electoral Act. Authorisation requirements will be extended to the electoral communications made by these entities – that is, communications likely or intended to affect voting in an election. There will be exemptions for personal and internal communications, news and editorial content, research, satire and all clothing.
Third, the Bill makes impersonating a Commonwealth entity, company or service, such as Medicare or a government department, a criminal offence. It is already a criminal offence to impersonate a Commonwealth official and these amendments will safeguard public confidence in the legitimacy of statements made by government bodies.
Together, these measures address gaps and inconsistencies in the current authorisations regime, and ensure consistent coverage to modern campaign tools like robocalls and mass-SMS messages.
This Bill was informed by the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters’ interim report into the authorisation of voter communication, tabled in December 2016. The Committee’s bipartisan report expressed concern that the current authorisations laws were not appropriate in the modern context.
“These changes will modernise and update our almost 100-year-old Electoral Act,” Special Minister of State, Senator the Hon Scott Ryan said.
”These amendments will apply authorisation requirements to political messages, regardless of the form of media used. They make sure voters know exactly who is seeking to influence their vote.”