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Truth in political advertising

Speeches in Parliament
Bob Brown 19 Mar 2010

Senator BOB BROWN (Tasmania) (Leader of the Australian Greens) (1:15 PM) -This afternoon I will be moving a motion that asks the Senate to call on the government to amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act before the next federal election to incorporate a truth in political advertising unit to monitor and regulate political advertising to ensure it is true and accurate. Following Senator Birmingham's speech, I expect that both the opposition and the government will support this move to insist that voters not be misled on their way to the ballot box. This is a move not just to help clear up some of the nastier politics that we are seeing unfold now in South Australia and Tasmania but to give voters a break from the persistent corrosion and erosion of the body politic by parties who wish to mislead electors about their opponents.

I also foreshadow that I will bring in legislation for a commissioner for integrity in politics. I believe we very badly need an independent arbiter of some of the nastiness and fraudulent behaviour that we see creeping into politics. In South Australia at the moment the Labor Party is running ads against the Liberal leader, Isobel Redmond, which imply that she is not concerned about some dangerous drugs, and ecstasy is named. They also imply that in some way or another she wants to be soft on murderers in prison who may vote for her in return. I went to Adelaide last Friday to campaign for the Greens and I found the attack ads from Labor that misrepresent the leader of the Liberals in South Australia not just tasteless but disgusting, as they are aimed at getting people to change their votes on false premises. They try to fit a woman who has integrity. Even though she is not in the political camp that I am in, she is leading a genuine party to an election and is prepared to enter into debate on a wide range of issues. She should not be traduced in the way those Labor Party ads are doing.

In my home state of Tasmania, in the elections in 2007 the Liberal Party apparatchiks entered into an arrangement with the Exclusive Brethren. They used the issue of gender to warn the electorate that they should be fearful for their families because of Greens policies. Mr Mantac, who came from Prime Minister Howard's office to the Tasmanian Liberals as their director, denied any connection with the Exclusive Brethren, but in a court case taken by a transgender citizen in Tasmania it was shown that Mr Mantac not only had knowledge of this attack but was an instrumental figure in misleading the electorate in a way which post-election required both the Exclusive Brethren and Mr Mantac to apologise to the voters of Tasmania. After the event it was too late. The voters of Tasmania had been misled on their way to the ballot box.

We now have in Tasmania an attack on the Greens coming from the Labor Party, which is very similar to the attack in South Australia on the Liberals, on the basis of drugs policy and prison policy. In both cases it is a complete misrepresentation of the Greens. It has got front-page articles in all three Tasmanian newspapers today. The Advocate has the headline ‘Girl gets automated ALP attack'. This article is about a nine-year-old girl who turned to her mother and said, ‘What's heroin, Mum?' The mother made inquiries and found out that this was a phone call from a Labor Party member who is currently in Western Australia. She recorded it as an attack ad on the Greens. She said she knew that this was not Greens policy but believed it might be in the future. In other words, it was a concocted and completely fraudulent representation of the Greens to the electorate, including to children who picked up the phone. You have to wonder how low this process has gone and why we as legislators who stand for decency, integrity and truth are not moving to cut this off at the pass.

Both Liberal and Labor have been involved in this process up to their necks. It is time it stopped. I can stand here and defend the Greens, but they need to look after themselves. The right of voters to be properly informed on their way to the ballot box is being attacked. Alison Andrews of the Examiner in Launceston is not a partisan journalist but she wrote today:

... I'm angry.

I'm annoyed at being treated like an idiot and cross at the thousands of dollars that have been spent on electioneering by candidates and party strategists acting like rude, spoilt children.

I'm talking about the dirty tricks campaigning that has exploded upon us in the desperate last days before Saturday's election.

It has included the voting rights for prisoners' policy taken to extremes so that suddenly interstate newspapers were writing stories about Port Arthur killer Martin Bryant getting the right to vote.

That is no party's policy, but Labor claim it is. It will not matter to them whether they are peddling the truth because we do not have an institution which prevents such presentation and misleading of the voters. Ms Andrews goes on to say:

There are the brochures being distributed across the state alleging that the Greens plan to legalise heroin as well as give Tasmania's worst criminals the right to vote.

Both of these are not manifestly or directly contrary to the Greens' policies and their actions in parliament. She goes on:

And yesterday we had the telephone calls to householders again across the state with a recorded message from a so-called mother of two-

this is by Labor-

warning people not to vote for the same party for all the above reasons.

Don't the people who dream up these smear campaigns realise that this is not the sort of behaviour that I expect from the people who aspire to represent our state, regardless of how I plan to vote.

We as politicians have a responsibility for what our party room and backroom boys and girls are doing. We are directly responsible for how the party behaves under these circumstances. It is appalling the way the Labor Party in both states is behaving on this occasion and as the Liberal Party has done on previous occasions in Tasmania.

It is time we cleaned this mess up and I intend to help do that. I will challenge both parties with a ‘truth in advertising commission' through legislation and an integrity commissioner before the next election. I hope that both the Liberal and Labor parties

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