Concerns were raised during the course of this inquiry that there had been a structural shift in the use of political advertising during the last federal election compared to previous elections.
This chapter will examine the volume of political advertising, how much was spent, and whether there were any deliberate political campaigns to actively mislead or deceive.
The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters received anecdotal evidence from submitters that were of the view that the volume of electoral advertising in the 2019 Federal election appeared to be larger than normal.
Two submitters who asked for their name to be withheld commented on the volume of negative advertising in their electorate. They noted that there was advertising ‘on huge billboards, on shopfronts, of trucks being towed across the electorate, on volunteer t-shirts, on leaflets and newsletters, [and] in online ads.’ They also questioned whether the volume of material such as posters and corflutes posed a danger to the community when put in areas that blocked traffic signs.
GetUp, who is classified as a political campaigner, believed that there was an ‘enormous volume of paid advertising’, calling for expenditure cuts.
Mr Brian Sawyer, who provided a submission in a private capacity, commented on how he was ‘bombarded with phone, internet and postal information.’ He also noted that campaign material was being erected into the entry areas of a school hall and that corflutes were still present weeks after polling day.
Mr Sawyer suggested that political parties:
… should be faced with increasing fines for each day they remain after the election. This may limit the amount put up in the first place.
Dr Stephen English, who provided a submission in a private capacity, recommended regulating the amount of ‘people and signs (corflutes), banners, A-frames etc that can be displayed at each entrance.’
Ms Ursula Hogben, who also provided a submission in a private capacity, also raised concerns about the danger around signage blocking street signs and recommended limiting the amount:
That each candidate be permitted to have a set number of pre-polling volunteers and signage at each pre-polling booth, for example maximum of 2 volunteers (and no paid staff) and a maximum of 2 standard corflute size signs, at each pre-polling booth.
Rite-On, a third-party disclosure entity, stated that they were overwhelmed by the amount of advertising material which ‘in some cases restricted movement of people and vehicles.’ They added that ‘Large areas of available fence space was dominated with hundreds of meters of plastic wrapping leaving little space for any other candidate to display signage.’
There has been a significant exponential increase in election campaigning expenditure since 1987. Increased campaigning activity has been accompanied by an increase in overall amounts of expenditure by political parties and candidates.
The 2008 Electoral Reform Green Paper, Donations, Funding and Expenditure cited figures based on the ‘difference in the reported total yearly expenditures for the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party for the years 2003-04 (a non-election year) and 2004-05 (an election year), indicating estimates of electoral expenditure at approximately $19.4 million and approximately $22 million respectively.’
As political parties were not required to continue to lodge returns on their electoral expenditure after 1996, ascertaining the exact figures that are being spent, particularly on political advertising, after that date is not easily accessible. The Parliamentary Library in their research paper on the 2019 Federal election noted:
Accurate expenditure details are not available for Australian federal elections because parties are not required to report their electoral expenditure. Annual returns to the AEC listing donors over the disclosure threshold ($13,800 for the 2019 federal election) and total party income and expenditure were released by the AEC in February 2020 for the 2018–19 financial year, which includes the May 2019 election.
In the research paper the Parliamentary Library did however highlight some media reporting from commentators which contained estimated figures on electoral expenditure:
In the absence of any actual figures on expenditure, a number of commentators have provided figures which appear to be either estimates or leaks. While it is not clear where the figures come from, one media article has claimed that Clive Palmer spent $53 million on ads for the campaign, the Greens spent $320,000 and Jacqui Lambie spent $50,000.
A review of Labor’s federal election campaign contained some industry analysis on metropolitan TV, radio and print expenditure by the ALP, Coalition and United Australia Party (UAP). Between April and May 2019, the ALP is estimated to have spent approximately $8 million; the Coalition approximately $7.5 million; and the UAP approximately $16 million.
Figure 4.1: Weekly expenditure - metropolitan TV, radio and print April-May 2019
Source: Australian Labor Party, Review of Australia’s 2019 Federal Election Campaign, November 2019, p. 75.
For the first time prior to a federal election, an individual through a political party, managed to outspend both the ALP and the Coalition in major advertising markets. Mr Clive Palmer, through the United Australia Party (UAP), was estimated to have spent ‘spent almost $70 million in the months leading up the 2019 election’ on television, print and digital political advertising.
In that same period, the UAP advertising budget was more than the advertising budgets of McDonald’s, Foxtel, Telstra or any of the banks and ‘no other political party made it into the top 50 Australian organisations’ spending on advertising over that period.’
Dr Colleen Lewis at a public hearing likened the amount that was being spent on election advertising as ‘an arms race’ even if the cost of advertising has come down due to the availability to advertise on social media platforms.
Free TV argued that advertising restrictions, such as the advertising blackout laws applicable to commercial broadcasters, prevented ‘people from spending it on television but directly encourage[d] people to spend it on other platforms.’
It is clear, that even just based on estimates, the amount spent on electoral advertising has significantly increased over the past fifteen years vastly outspending the total yearly expenditures of political parties.
Given the rise in campaign spending, and the unprecedented amount spent by the UAP at the last election, a number of submitters advocated for limiting the amount that a candidate can spend on a campaign.
One submitter recommended limiting the amount a candidate can spend on a campaign, including advertising as well as limiting the amount a party can spend. Ms Chris Anderson, who provided a submission in a private capacity, agreed that spending limits should be implemented ‘especially in the six months leading up to elections.’
Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, University of Melbourne, argued that not placing limits on campaign spending was inherently unfair:
With no limits on election campaign spending, such unfairness in fund-raising easily translates into unfairness in the electoral contests, with political parties favoured by corporate sponsors enjoying a significant spending advantage.
The very same absence of spending limits enables Clive Palmer to pour more than $50 million into the coming federal election, potentially outspending the Liberal Party and also the Australian Labor Party. With an estimated wealth of $1.8 billion, Palmer’s spending shows how big money in elections is small change for the mega-rich.
Professor Tham, highlighted that expenditure limits on candidates were in place at the federal level for 80 years:
Expenditure limits on candidate spending were, in fact, a long-standing feature of political finance regulation in Australia. They were in place at the federal level for 80 years and were also common at the state level, including Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. However, after decades in operation these limits on the campaign expenditure of candidates were removed in 1980.
Professor Tham recommended establishing ‘stricter limits on government advertising in [the] period leading up to [an] election.’ He provided detailed reasons for establishing limits on political expenditure in his submission to JSCEM’s inquiry into the 2010 Federal election:
There is a range of ways to configure election spending limits so that they lessen the risk of corruption and promote electoral fairness (thereby enhancing ‘freedom to’ engage in political expression), whilst also ensuring that political expression enjoys meaningful ‘freedom from’ regulation, so as to conform to constitutional restrictions. The key aspects of such limits that need to be determined are:
the political expenditure to which they apply;
the period for which they apply;
the political participants covered by the limits (for example, political parties, candidates, third parties);
types of limits (national, state and/or electorate); and
the amounts at which they are set and how they are calculated.
Ms Daphne Lascaris, also in a private capacity, advocated for the implementation of spending caps.
Ms Rosemary Cutrone, who provided a submission in a private capacity, called for private spending on political campaigns to be limited or banned altogether. Ms Sue Strodl, private capacity, believed that the absence of a spending cap was a corruption to the democratic purpose calling for financial caps on the amount of money spent for an election campaign.
The joint submission by Reproductive Choice Australia, South Australian Abortion Action Coalition, Children By Choice and Marie Stopes Australia supported regulation on campaign expenditure providing that it did not disadvantage small players with red tape:
We strongly support the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters recommending that spending caps be placed on the amount of funding that candidates, political parties, political campaigners and other parties can spend before and during Federal elections. We believe this will provide equality of political power and build trust in Australian democracy. Spending caps are an important means of decreasing the risk of disproportionate political influence before and during elections.
Mr Antony Green, supported implementing expenditure caps as ‘a way of controlling expensive elections’, adding:
It forces parties to think a little bit more about what they're spending money on. I think that sometimes there's a sense of a degree of mutually assured destruction in election campaigning. You've got the money so you just keep spending. You keep sending more and more letters out to candidates. We've seen that targeted advertising is more effective than blanket advertising, but if there are no expenditure limits then you'll continue to get blanket advertising as well.
The Democratic Audit of Australia (DAA) believed that the absence of spending limits on election advertising was leading to an arms race:
Presently, candidates and political parties are free to spend as much as they want on election campaigning. This unregulated context is both to the detriment of political equality and the perceived integrity of the electoral process. It leads to an arms race in pursuit of political donations and relentless negative advertising, with both of these contributing to the loss of trust in political parties and electoral politics. A majority of voters now believe that government is run primarily for the benefit of ‘a few big interests’ and the latest Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey places Australia 26th out of 33 OECD countries on the campaign finance aspect of electoral integrity.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) believed that establishing expenditure limits would ensure that there was a level playing field in ‘elections and to ensure that it is not simply those with the largest wallets who have the most access to participate in the electoral process, dominate policy debates, or to run for office.’
The joint submission from the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), the ACF and the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania (the Uniting Church), suggested that spending caps would provide the following benefits:
Restore democracy: Without spending caps, our election debates are dominated by those with the biggest bank balance, not those with the best ideas. By reining this spending in, we can hope to restore Australians’ trust in democracy.
Restore equality: Spending caps are essential to realising a foundational principle of the Commonwealth Constitution: that Australians enjoy an equal share of political power.
Focus on national interest: Spending caps allow politicians.
GetUp highlighted the results of the Democracy 2025 survey, conducted by the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis at the University of Canberra, which found that 75 per cent of federal MPs supported an expenditure cap.
When questioned what level of expenditure would be appropriate to set the cap at, GetUp stated ‘somewhere closer to $20 million globally is probably closer to the mark for political parties, and a proportion of that for third parties is appropriate as well, but that does need a lot more work.’
Ms Sally Woodward, who provided a submission in a private capacity, also identified two surveys where respondents supported limits on campaign expenditure believing that ‘the lack of restrictions on political expenditure or donations at the federal level has contributed to perceptions that government is run primarily for the benefit of the big business.’ Calling for greater transparency, Ms Woodward suggested ‘implementing spending caps on federal campaign expenditure’.
Professor George Williams, private capacity, supported instituting caps on electoral expenditure by parties and candidates as a way to even the playing field:
… we run the risk, as we saw at the last election, where a billionaire is able to massively outspend other participants—at least some participants—in ways that can have a very large and distorting impact upon electoral preferences. We do want people to put their ideas out there, but we know that money has a big impact on the ability to get the message across, so we need a level playing field.
The Centre for Public Integrity (CPI) added that they did not want to limit the ‘advocacy of third parties, which is very important to our democracy’, stating:
We need to make sure that electoral expenditure is defined in a way that allows organisations to be involved and advocate on issues and advocate on behalf of constituents. The definition of 'electoral expenditure' that is currently in the Commonwealth Electoral Act is one that we think is adequate in capturing electoral expenditure of third parties, which includes any expenditure whose dominant purpose is for influencing the way people vote in an election.
Expenditure caps in other jurisdictions
The DAA highlighted that nineteen European countries, including the United Kingdom, in addition to Canada and New Zealand have campaign expenditure limits.
Ms Woodward also pointed out that a number of European countries had also implemented limits on campaign spending:
Many countries in Europe, including the UK, Ireland and the Scandinavian countries have never allowed such paid political advertising. Two-thirds of European countries limit the amount a candidate can spend on a campaign, including advertising, and many limit the amount a party can spend.
The Australian Greens also recommended adopting ‘electoral funding rules similar to the system in force in Canada prior to 2011’ which included capped campaign spending for both political parties and third parties.
The United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand (NZ) and Canada all have political campaign expenditure caps in place that include third parties.
In the UK, spending limits during election campaigns, which can vary for different elections, apply to candidates, political parties, and non-party campaigners. Political parties need to record what they spend during the election campaign and report their spending to the UK Electoral Commission in a spending return.
In NZ candidates can spend up to NZD$28,200; registered political parties can spend up to NZD$1,199,000 if they contest the party vote plus NZD$28,200 for each electorate candidate for the party; registered third party promoters can spend up to NZD$338,000; unregistered third party promoters can spend up to NZD$13,600.
Canada regulates activities and spending in the pre-election and election periods including:
The costs to produce and place ads are election expenses, which mean spending on them is limited by the overall election expense limit of the party and candidate, electoral district association or third party placing the ads.
Overall election expense limits are set using a formula described in the Canada Elections Act (CEA).
The CEA imposes separate expense limits to third parties for regulated activities that take place during a pre-election period or an election period.
The formula is based on the number of names on the preliminary or revised lists of electors for each electoral district, and on the length of the election period:
$2.1735 for each of the first 15,000 electors;
$1.092 for each of the next 10,000 electors; and
$0.546 for each of the remaining electors.
Nationally, New South Wales (NSW), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) limit campaign expenditure.
The DAA suggested that there was ‘evidence that the New South Wales spending limits have been effective in significantly reducing the amounts spent on election campaigning.’
The joint submission from the HRLC, ACF and the Uniting Church, also noted the regulation in NSW and the ACT to limit campaign expenditure adding:
The Federal Government is increasingly lagging behind the States and Territories: New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT all have spending caps, and the Queensland Government is looking to reintroduce them.
Table 4.1: Spending caps at State and Territory level in Australia
Up to - $12m for political parties - $140,000 for candidates
Commences 1 October in the year before the election (approx. 6 months)
Up to - $3.5m for political parties - $100,000-$125,000 for candidates
Commences 1 July in the year before the election (approx. 9 months)
TAS (Legislative Council)
Political parties are prohibited from incurring expenditure. $17,000 for candidates
Commences 1 January in the year before the election (approx. 5 months)
Up to - $1m for political parties - $40,000 for candidates
Commences 1 January in the year before the election (approx. 10 months)
Source: Human Rights Law Centre, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Submission 84, p. 6.
In addition to placing a limit on electoral expenditure, the CPI also advocated for requiring campaign accounts for electoral expenditure similar to NSW and Victoria:
So you have a campaign account where all the money coming in is declared if it's above the threshold, and you can only spend money from that account. This account makes every type of regulation easier because you can ensure that that campaign account is audited. … You can also put in expenditure caps so that you're not allowed to spend money unless it's come from that account and it's only up to a certain amount.
Both Victoria and NSW require all political parties, elected members, candidates, groups of candidates, third-party campaigners and associated entities to maintain a campaign account for all State elections.
In Victoria, the campaign account:
… is a financial account that all funding recipients must set up to deposit: political donations, public funding. All political expenditure must be paid from this account. The State campaign account must be with an authorised deposit-taking institution.
An authorised deposit-taking institution is a bank, credit union, or building society within Australia and:
All political donations received for State electoral purposes must be paid into the State campaign account and all political and electoral expenditure must be paid from the State campaign account.
NSW has established similar requirements with ‘political parties, elected members (NSW Members of Parliament and councillors), candidates, groups of candidates, third-party campaigners and associated entities required may be required to use a campaign account.’
The campaign account must be held in ‘Australian dollars with a financial institution.’
The NSW Electoral Commission defines electoral expenditure as:
promoting or opposing (directly or indirectly):
the election of a candidate or candidates.
influencing (directly or indirectly) the voting at an election.
For a third-party campaigner in NSW, electoral expenditure only includes ‘the expenditure which is incurred for the dominant purpose of promoting or opposing a party or the election of a candidate or candidates or influencing the voting at an election.’
Limiting expenditure on not-for-profit organisations
Ms Seibert was of the view that limiting political expenditure could also potentially limit political speech ‘through advocacy and campaigning, making it more difficult for not-for-profit organisations to contribute to our democracy.’
Ms Seibert did however believe that it was in the public interest to establish greater transparency around political campaign expenditure for not-for-profit organisations ‘where its dominant purpose is to influence the decisions of voters in an election.’ She added that transparency:
enables the public to make informed decisions and give proper weight to different speakers and messages, based on an understanding not only of what the political speech is but also by who is funding it, which may influence how the public react to the political speech;
can also guard against corruption, because if entities can incur significant expenditure on advocacy and campaigning anonymously (be it through donations or direct expenditure themselves), it may be easier for them to seek a quid pro quo from those whom they support with those activities or to exert other forms of undue influence.
The HRLC, ACF and Uniting Church believed that the spending cap could potentially ‘impose a significant administrative burden on small organisations and discourage participation in elections at the grassroots level.’ They added:
The requirement to monitor spending should, therefore, only apply when third parties anticipate spending over a sufficiently high threshold that will leave small-scale advocacy, for instance by volunteers wanting to host a meeting in their local electorate, unaffected. The flipside is that this threshold should not be so high as to incentivise political actors to avoid the spending caps by establishing multiple small organisations. Evidence as to the amount small grassroots campaigners typically incur may assist the Committee to determine the quantum for the cap.
Government campaign expenditure before elections
Australian Greens did raise a separate concern about the amount of taxpayer funded campaign expenditure used on Government advertising. Noting an audit on Government advertising by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), the Australian Greens stated:
The National Audit Office has confirmed a long-term trend of increased campaign expenditure before elections. This was evident again in advance of the 2019 election when millions of taxpayer dollars were spent on ads promoting government initiatives just prior to the Federal election being called.
Dr Lewis held the view that it was necessary to place a cap on the amount of taxpayers money used on election advertising:
It would also be necessary to place a cap on the amount of taxpayers’ money that could be spent on an election campaign. Without such a cap there would be no limit on the amount that could be expended by political parties and candidates trying to win government and/or be elected to parliament.
Dr Lewis recommended canvassing the views of the Australian community prior to any raise in taxpayer contributions to election campaigns.
The analysis undertaken in the ANAO audit report, Government Advertising: June 2015 to April 2019, found that ‘campaign media expenditure increased in the lead up to the last six federal elections.’ The report provided an example of how much was spent on media prior to the 2013 and 2016 federal elections:
For example, in the three months prior to the 2013 general election, the Commission accounted for $15.8 million of the $61.3 million total media expenditure (or 25.8 per cent). During the 2016 general election, when the Commission was advertising to inform the public about changes to the Senate voting system, it spent $43.4 million of the $95.0 million total media expenditure (45.7 per cent) in the three months prior to the election.
Figure 4.2: Campaign advertising expenditure 2010–11 to 2017–18, June 2018 prices
Source Australian National Audit Office, Auditor-General Report No.7 2019–20, Government Advertising: June 2015 to April 2019, 26 August 2019, p. 38.
The ANAO report concluded that while there was scope for improving administrative practices relating to: documenting the accuracy of campaign statements; procurement and financial commitments; assessing and documenting the need for additional campaign activity; and the basis for evaluating campaigns; the Department of ‘Finance and the selected entities have been largely effective in elements of their administration of framework requirements.’
Recommendations for reform
The HRLC, ACF and Uniting Church provided some guidance on the drafting of federal legislation to implement spending caps, including constitutional consideration from the High Court:
Spending caps are not only constitutional, but benefit Australian democracy.
Spending caps should be set at the same level for political parties and third parties. The High Court unanimously struck down a NSW law imposing a spending cap on third parties that was less than half of that of political parties in Unions NSW v New South Wales  HCA 1.
Each entity should be subject to its own spending cap, unless that entity is controlled by or working closely with another entity on a campaign. In Unions NSW v New South Wales  HCA 58, the High Court struck down a NSW law that aggregated the expenditure of political parties with their “affiliated organisations” – in effect, requiring unions and the ALP to operate under the same spending cap – on the basis that affiliation to a political party under the legislation did not imply that they had the same political views.
Supported by another nine organisations, the HRLC, ACF and Uniting Church set out a number of additional best practice examples on implementing spending caps including that they should:
aim to improve current levels of political equality and apply to everyone equally;
not impose red tape on small players or limit volunteers’ ability to communicate with voters; and
apply at least two years from the last Federal election.
Recommending that the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) examine implementing expenditure caps on all political parties, candidates and third-parties, the ACF added:
Regardless of political affiliation, the ability of a single individual to use their personal fortune to drown out the voices of others and to influence election outcomes raises grave concerns about fairness and the integrity of the electoral system. The UAP’s spending in the election sets an unnerving precedent where future parties must now consider the possibility of having to compete with the private war chests of wealthy individuals. Without regulation of expenditure, we can expect expenditure to continue to increase, leading to pressure to raise more funds which both distracts candidates from their parliamentary duties and increases the risk of corruption that arises with political donations.
Ms Woodward recommended ‘implementing spending caps on federal campaign expenditure and providing greater transparency over political donations’ in order to ‘rein in the ever-increasing role private money is playing in its federal elections.’
The CPI agreed with the view to place caps on electoral expenditure adding another suggestion that the Government should purchase and distribute advertising space. They recommended:
Caps on all electoral expenditure covering political parties, associated entities and third parties similar to Electoral Funding Act 2018 (NSW);
Level set through review and tied to donations caps and public funding;
Finance or Attorney Generals’ Department to purchase and distribute advertising space from commercial broadcasters and major newspapers during each election year, with limits also applied to the amount of advertising space available for each party, candidate and third-party campaigners.
When discussing the role of public funding in electoral expenditure, the CPI stated their preference for half public and half private funding once an expenditure cap was set.
Mrs Kathleen Chappell, who provided a submission in a private capacity, made a more targeted recommendation suggesting to limit ‘the amount of advertising dollars that can be spent in each electorate.’
Ms Hogben made a number of suggestions aimed at curtailing electoral advertising expenditure and increasing transparency including caps, timely disclosure and enforcement when regulations have been breached:
That there be reasonable caps on election advertising expenditure and volume and frequency of advertising, regarding any one candidate and any one party.
That the caps on election advertising apply to candidates, politicians, political parties, their associated entities, and third-parties.
That election advertising expenditure be disclosed publicly and in a timely manner so that it can be monitored.
That the laws imposing sensible caps, give the regulator powers to curtain further advertising expenditure, if the regulator considers that laws have been breached.
The HRLC at a public hearing provided their suggestion on how a spending cap could work in practice:
In practice, we would probably need two levels of spending cap—one to work on the national level and one to work per electorate. We haven't put forward a specific figure, but we have provided some kind of guidance or principle by which that figure could be settled on. We think it should be less than the current spending of the major parties to start with, and we think that, as a guide, on a per electorate basis, it could be done by reference to what seems like a reasonable amount that any Independent could feasibly raise to run. So it's just relying on a greater-equality basis—certainly not strict equality. We think that that seems like a fair guide.
While the majority of submitters advocated for establishing caps on campaign spending, there were some who identified some possible issues.
Professor Tham did however identify two arguments against legislating election spending limits including that:
expenditure limits are unenforceable or unworkable; and
election spending limits constitute an unjustified interference with freedom of political communication.
Ms Krystian Seibert, Industry Fellow at Swinburne University of Technology, did hold some ‘reservations regarding the introduction of expenditure limits at a Federal level.’ Ms Seibert hypothesised that establishing expenditure caps could have the negative effect of:
Shifting the balance of power further towards government and away from citizens acting together; and
Reducing the ability of citizens acting together to hold the government to account for its decisions.
Ms Seibert also raised concerns that different limits would be applied to political parties compared to third parties or political campaigners potentially stifling political discussion.
Deceptive and misleading conduct
One theme among some submissions was the perception that there were a number of coordinated misinformation and disinformation campaigns being undertaken by domestic actors during the 2019 Federal election.
Ms Margaux Saita, private capacity, commented that fake news was ‘one of the biggest threats to both global and domestic democracy and international relations.’ She was of the view that the algorithms employed by social media platforms to target their users were having detrimental effects:
Makes it difficult (sometimes near impossible) for potential voters to receive online news from another political perspective; and
Creates an environment of political encapsulation for voters, facilitating communication with those of their opinion, nursing potential radicalisation and inciting intolerance.
The joint submission from Ms Rita Spencer, Mr Michael Lyons, Mr Gary Dowling, and Mr Kevin Turnbull commented that there was an urgent need to address the issues of fake news. They added that a ‘lack of enforceable standards is creating vulnerability to the ever-threatening virus of fake news.’
The Australia Institute highlighted some key aspects of social media advertising from the 2019 Federal election, including algorithmic amplification and fake news:
The ‘narrowcasting’ of customised Facebook ads based on specific preferences, like ads that feature a make of car the viewer is known to be interested in;
The Australian debut of the Facebook Ad Library (albeit in a much more limited form than in some other countries), making publicly available any political ads that were running on Facebook at the time;
The use of the Guardian’s Australian election database, for the first time in a federal election, which archives political Facebook ads for future reference; and
Widespread political advertising on the Chinese social media app WeChat, including some ‘fake news’.
Recommendations for reform
Ms Margaux Saita suggested that government work with online platforms to regulate the spread of fake news and implement accountability measures:
The government should work with social media and other online platforms to encourage the regulation of the spread of fake news (especially in the very obvious electoral context); and
Parties known to have relied on false information, and therefore the taking advantage of their citizens, in order to advance an agenda purely for political power, should be held accountable.
Ms Spencer, Mr Lyons, Mr Dowling, and Mr Turnbull called for legislation ‘to control false and misleading political advertising.’
Australian’s trust in news and information
As part of its submission to the Senate Select Committee on Foreign Interference through Social Media, the Department of Home Affairs provided definitions for disinformation and misinformation:
Disinformation: False information designed to deliberately mislead and influence public opinion or obscure the truth for malicious or deceptive purposes. Disinformation can be intended for financial gain (such as clickbait stories), but have an incidental effect on public opinion or debate.
Misinformation: False information that is spread due to ignorance, by error or mistake with good intentions/without the intent to deceive.
The News and Media Research Centre (NMRC) at the University of Canberra’s submission explored whether there was any evidence of political disinformation campaigns from foreign actors compared to domestic actors. While the increased prevalence of disinformation globally may have increased community awareness of the issue, the NMRC believed that there was little evidence to suggest that disinformation from foreign actors had an impact on the 2019 Federal election:
Australians are increasingly accessing news and information from online sources, including via social media platforms. During the 2019 federal election there was heightened awareness of the possibility of the dissemination of political disinformation from foreign actors. This in part stemmed from the impact of fake news on the 2016 US election as well as other democracies, such as the Philippines. While there is little evidence that disinformation from foreign actors had a major impact on the 2019 Australian election result, disinformation generated by political parties and candidates in the form of political advertising and extreme spin … arguably helped tipped the balance in favour of the incumbent government.
The NMRC undertook an analysis of the Digital News Report: Australia 2019 (DNR 2019) which:
… provides analysis of consumer interest in politics, news use based on the political orientation of Australian citizens, fake news and fact-checking behaviour, which can help interpret the result of the 2019 election and the impact of political advertising spread via social and traditional media on vulnerable sections of the Australian electorate.
The findings in the DNR 2019 report were based on an analysis of survey results that was ‘conducted by YouGov using an online questionnaire at the end of January/beginning of February 2019.’ The online questionnaire was completed by a panel of consumers drawn from 72,242 online Australians and a sample of 2010 individuals. Out of those 2010 consumers, the majority were concerned about the challenges determining what was real or fake:
65% of Australian news consumers were concerned about fake news;
65% of those who live in regional, rural and remotes areas are more likely to say they are concerned about what is real and fake online compared to 60% of news consumers in the cities;
74% of those who mainly access news via social media are concerned about fake news;
49% of those who mainly access news via search engines and 75% those who mainly access online news via news aggregators are less concerned;
70% of those with a high interest in politics are much more likely to be concerned about what is real and fake online;
36% said they did compare the reporting of a story across news outlets to check its accuracy; and
26% said they began to use more reliable news sources.
On whether participants undertook fact-checking activities in the previous twelve months, the NMRC highlighted:
36% said they did compare the reporting of a story across news outlets to check its accuracy;
26% said they began to use more reliable news sources;
28% of those who are concerned say they would not share a story they had doubts about, compared to 17% of people who are not concerned;
27% say they have stopped using news sources they are unsure about, and 30% say they have started using more trustworthy news sources; and
83% of Australians who have high interest in politics have engaged in one or more fact-checking activities.
The Digital News Report: Australia 2020 (DNR 2020) found that respondents overall trust in news continued to decline between 2019 and 2020:
… from 44% in 2019 to 38% at the end of January and beginning of February this year. Trust in the news people use also fell from 51% to 46%. The trust levels in news found on social media or from search engines remain similar to last year. However, there was an increase in the number of news consumers who expressed distrust in news found on these platforms. More than half (52%) of news consumers said they do not trust news found on social media and almost one-third (31%) do not trust news from search engines.
The DNR 2020 report also highlighted a growing concern in misinformation produced by our political representatives:
More than one-third (35%) indicate they are most concerned about misinformation produced by the Australian government, politicians or political parties and one-fifth say they are worried about misinformation generated by activists and activist groups. Only 14% say they are concerned about journalists and news organisations as sources of misinformation.
Truth in advertising
Some organisations and individuals who provided a submission to this inquiry called for truth in advertising legalisation to be established at the federal level.
A submitter who asked for their name to be withheld held the view that there should be truth in advertising laws at the Federal level, ‘all political slogans should be true and not based on misleading claims’ and that the AEC ‘should be given the authority to approve or reject electoral communications for publication, including online.’
Ms Daphne Lascaris, Ms Kathie Chappell, Ms Carrie Dennes and Mr John Mattes, private capacity, all advocated for applying truth in advertising laws. Mr Mattes suggested applying the same truth in advertising standards required by advertisers to political parties.
Dr Lewis recommended establishing the SA model of truth in advertising laws at the federal level.
The CPI agreed that the South Australian truth in advertising laws were a good model that worked effectively:
This committee has an advantage in that it can look to state examples. In South Australia they have an independent Court of Disputed Returns that assesses allegations—the point being, that there must be an independent decision-maker looking at cases where there are allegations that there has been misleading information put in the advertising laws. After that experience, South Australia still has functioning election campaigns, and I don't think it's weaponised as the risk is. I think because there is that independent decision-maker, it makes it more difficult.
The Australia Institute highlighted its report, We Can Handle the Truth, which examined truth in political advertising. Of those polled for the report, the majority were in favour of regulating truth in advertising:
84% of Australians support new truth in political advertising laws that would make it illegal for political parties and candidates to publish ads that are inaccurate and misleading
Most Australians support three potential penalties for misleading advertising: fines and other financial penalties, being forced to publish retractions at own expense and losing some or all public funding
Those polled were roughly evenly divided between three adjudication options: electoral commissions, magistrates and judges or industry bodies. Other adjudication options included a separate body like an Elections Complaints Authority or a special panel of former politicians.
The Australia Institute’s report also provided some statistics on the number of complaints the South Australian Electoral Commission had received about inaccurate and misleading advertising between 1997 and 2018 (Figure 4.3):
The SA Electoral Commission has received complaints about inaccurate and misleading advertising in each of the last six elections and requested at least one withdrawal or retraction in most elections, but has not taken legal action to achieve withdrawals/retractions.
Figure 4.3: Complaints and withdrawal/retraction requests in each election to South Australian Electoral Commission
Source The Australia Institute, We can handle the truth. Opportunities for truth in political advertising, August 2019, p. 8.
The Australian Greens were of the view that disinformation campaigns, particularly by third parties, could be quite damaging:
Disinformation can be particularly damaging where the advertisements are presented by third parties, and often not explicitly as an advertisement. Third parties are not currently required to identify themselves or authorise and therefore make known their own political or ideological position.
The Australian Greens advocated for enacting similar legislation to the South Australian model by amending the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth) ‘making it an offence to authorise or publish an advertisement purporting to be a statement of fact when the statement is inaccurate and misleading to a material extent.’
Associate Professor Luke Beck, private capacity, commented that truth in advertising laws were more focussed on deceptive and misleading advertising rather than deliberating over what political comments were true or false:
This is essentially truth in advertising. Truth is contestable, right? So saying 'truth in advertising' is a nice slogan, but it's not particularly meaningful in practice. South Australians laws are about deceptive and misleading, rather than true or false. This is that proposal, essentially, but a better worked up proposal. The standards of 'deceptive and misleading' or 'likely to deceive or mislead' are well established in Australian law. These are not new standards. These have applied in the commercial advertising context for decades. They are well understood by the courts, by lawyers, by everybody. So nothing is new; we're just applying it to another context, where you have to have 'authorised by' and where it's a purported statement of fact. Assertions of opinion are not covered. You can be as deceptive and misleading as you like with regard to your assertions of opinion. But, with regard to assertions of fact, you wouldn't be allowed to deceive or mislead.
Professor Williams argued that there were enough global cases of deliberately untruthful political advertising to advocate for establishing truth in advertising laws at the federal level adding, but cautioned about creating a scheme that captured opinion as well:
If you had a truth-in-political-advertising scheme that applied to all political advertising that sought to capture opinion, I think that would be deeply problematic. In fact, I think it can only be justified on very narrow terms. If it's truly limited to clear statements of fact that are demonstrably false, I think that takes a lot of the heat out of it. If you can't show without doubt that they are false then, simply, the legislation doesn't bite. It's only there for the more extreme cases, but I think there are enough extreme cases out here in the US and elsewhere to suggest that we do now need something like this.
Professor Williams put forward the view that, if truth in advertising laws were to be established, ‘it's better to have an independent, non-electoral body overseeing the scheme, because electoral commissions are always going to be wary about intervening, given the capacity to compromise themselves and also given their dependence upon whoever is to form government.’
Professor Williams suggested either forming an independent panel during election periods or letting the courts decide.
Dr Ross Cartmill, private capacity, pointed out that there have been a number of objections to regulating truth in advertising laws including there should be freedom of political communication and parliament is limited in its scope to make laws restricting political communication, adding:
Superficially, that argument does have some benefit in preserving our democracy. We also accept that it's often said that it's too hard to define what truth is. We do find this somewhat frustrating, because truth is defined in the commercial world, but it's not defined in the political world. It's said that it's too hard to define truth.
Responsible Technology Australia (RTA) stated that ‘there is no oversight happening regarding any advertising, let alone political advertising during an election—a time when reliable, accurate information is more critical.’
RTA highlighted the possible damage disinformation could do by running an experiment. They placed deliberately false advertisements on Facebook targeting young people which remained active for two months:
We ran ads appearing to inform young people not to bother enrolling to vote or that the AEC wouldn't count votes in safe electorates, as well as dangerous COVID misinformation and 5G conspiracy theories. All of these ads were approved by Facebook and served to our targeted lists. What is particularly concerning is that, despite dozens on that list reporting these ads as misleading, false or offensive, Facebook took no action and these ads remained approved and running for two months.
RTA elaborated on the potential harm false or misleading advertising could have stating ‘once a piece of content is out there and reaching people, it doesn't matter if it's taken down—the people who have seen that content have already been harmed by it; it's already been done.’
RTA held the view that it would be a challenge for the current regulators on commercial or consumer advertising to also regulate political advertising:
The challenge with these problems is that they're much larger than the remit of any single regulator or governing body. When you look at the way that social media platforms enable misinformation and disinformation campaigns to proliferate, the oversight of that kind of problem doesn't squarely fit under the remit of the ACMA, the eSafety Commissioner or the ACCC neatly. So what is needed is either to rethink the remit of some of those regulators or to think about new mechanisms for oversight to ensure that there's the appropriate kind of accountability being applied to the platforms.
Mr Green commented that he was ‘not convinced that truth in advertising laws really work as the facts could be argued’:
I think the biggest problem with truth-in-advertising laws is that they become fact checkers. You can argue about the facts, and that's all they can argue on, but, if it's a promise, you can't argue facts with promises. I'm not convinced that truth-in-advertising laws really work. With the examples I've seen where it's been used in South Australia, sometimes what they make a finding on seems almost trivial.
Dr Cartmill agreed with the view that once an advertisement was published the harm was already done and making a complaint would not rectify the underlying issue that the community had already seen it.
The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) believed that the idea of regulating truth in advertising laws was farcical.
While Free TV agreed that reform was needed to address misinformation and disinformation on social media platforms, they were strongly opposed the introduction of any truth in advertising legislation.
Commercial Radio Australia’s (CRA) perception was that the current advertising rules were simple and well understood and raised concerns if ‘any complex regulations were imposed on top of that that may make it difficult for broadcasters to work out whether or not an advertisement should be broadcast.’ They added that, in practice:
… the lighter the burden on radio stations the better. In other words, they should not necessarily be the decision-makers. They will review ads, of course, but bear in mind that, particularly in regional areas, staff at radio stations are stretched and they're doing several jobs. They will review every ad before putting it to air, but if the regulations are complex that will impose an unreasonable burden on them.
The arbiter for truth in advertising
Associate Professor Beck held the view that publishers, such as social media platforms, should be liable for failing to remove fake advertisements as soon as they are made aware of the problem or face civil consequences. He added:
Civil penalties rather than criminal penalties: the prohibition on misleading or deceptive political advertising would be a civil prohibition in the same way that current misleading or deceptive commercial advertising prohibitions are civil prohibitions. There are no criminal penalties like exist under the similar South Australian law.
Associate Professor Beck suggested that the Australian Competition Consumer Commission (ACCC) were better placed than the AEC to administer any laws on deceptive and misleading political advertising:
The ACCC would be, essentially, being asked to take on a slightly expanded role—and their role expands over time as the economy expands and more businesses et cetera grow. So they have the expertise to do this already. They have the resources to do it. If you gave it to the Electoral Commission, for example, they have no professional experience in dealing with deceptive and misleading advertising.
The Australian Greens espoused the use of fact check services but acknowledged they had limitations:
Services like the ABC Fact Check (in partnership with RMIT) are invaluable in making an objective analysis of the veracity of claims made by politicians or political parties. However, these services have a limited reach and often misleading political statements develop momentum on social media despite any adverse ‘Fact Check’ result.
The Australian Greens held the view that the AEC was not the appropriate arbiter of truth in advertising legislation if were ever to be enacted and ‘recommended that an independent body be established to implement new ‘truth in political advertising’ laws.’ They also noted that the ‘ACCC has expertise in making determinations in relation to misleading statements in commercial advertising.’
The ACCC stated in no uncertain terms that they were not the appropriate agency to regulate truth in electoral advertising laws:
I will be absolutely blunt and say that the first idea is a terrible idea—if I can put it that way. Our consumer law works in trade or commerce. We are there to make sure the market economy works properly, that there's no anti-competitive behaviour under our competition law and that there's no misleading behaviour under our consumer law. So if somebody wants to sell you a product and they misrepresent what you're getting when you buy that product in ways that get you to pay too much for the product or whatever, that's what we are there to do. We are in no position to deal with political advertising. I think if our law was moved beyond trade and commerce, that would completely alter what the ACCC does and I think, frankly, be the undoing of the ACCC. It would take us where we just should not be. We're a make-the-market economy-work organisation; we're not there to deal with political advertising. I think that should be done by people who are in that sort of arena.
When asked whether the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) had refused any political advertising on the basis that it was false, they advised that they had not but noted that their television advertisements go through the same process as the ones on commercial television and Free TV, the commercial advice or ClearAds process, which does not examine misleading and deceptive conduct as one of the elements of assessment but rather on whether the advertisement would be considered defamatory.
SBS added that they would not be a suitable arbiter of truth in political advertising as it was a broader issue and that the ‘liability and responsibility should not lie with the publishers.’
Free TV Australia agreed with the SBS view that it was ‘not appropriate for publishers to be the arbiter of content of other people's advertising’ for the following reasons:
Firstly, publishers, such as broadcasters, take no part in determining the contents of the advertisement and cannot reasonably be expected to know what amounts to political truth and whether statements made are 'inaccurate and misleading'. Broadcasters are simply not equipped to make such assessments, particularly where they must be made in short time frames.
Secondly, it is not appropriate for a commercial or industry organisation to take on such a sensitive role in the political process.
Thirdly, it has long been recognised by Governments and legislators that regulating the truth in political advertising is not only a risk to freedom of speech and freedom of political communication, but also extremely difficult if not impossible to administer and enforce.
The NMRC held the view that responsibility for truth in advertising lies with the authoriser not the publisher/broadcaster. However, they added that publishers still had a role in enforcing compliance:
Publishers might have ethical responsibilities as well, lest they become complicit in the malign activities of other actors. In legal terms this might include the role of publishers or platforms in enforcing compliance with existing regulations and to take steps to counter malevolent, even if legal, uses of their channels or platforms.
Dr Cartmill also pointed out the challenges for the AEC if they were task with administering any laws on deceptive and misleading political advertising:
Secondly, who is going to define this truth? If you use the Electoral Commission to define the truth, then you risk politicising the institution that's actually running the election, so the impartiality of the Electoral Commission is threatened, and that would be undermining the whole process of the election.
The AEC stated that they had no role in assessing truth in campaign advertising and that if it were to be considered, that they not be the arbiter:
If there is to be a role for truth in advertising at election time, my advice would be that that role not be fulfilled by the Electoral Commission because it will involve us making value judgements about candidates' and parties' material, and it could lead to accusations of bias by the AEC. Truth, particularly at election time, is sometimes in the eye of the beholder. If we're set as a tribunal deciding, 'We like that one, we don't like this one,' it's going to lead us, I think, into a dark place. If there's a role for truth in advertising at election time, I don't think it's for the Electoral Commission. Of course, if parliament passed legislation that way, we would certainly do it.
Do not call register
A robot-call or robocall is an automated or pre-recorded voice message. During the 2019 Federal election the use of robocalls and text messages to target voters received media coverage. The use of this political campaigning technique by the UAP in particular gained coverage.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), when asked about how many complaints it received about unsolicited text messages and robocalls from the UAP, stated it:
… received 1,338 complaints about texts and emails from the United Australia Party in January. We received just over 350 complaints in February, two complaints in March, one in April and then a further 147 complaints in May—for a total of just over 1,850 complaints concerning the United Australia Party.
Mr Allan Hird, private capacity, raised concerns about the use of robocalls by organisations not running candidates that were trying to influence voters. Ms Lascaris raised concerns about robocalls disseminating disinformation.
Ms Woodward also raised her concerns about the use of robocalls by individuals not running candidates that also didn’t contain the proper authorisation required of campaign material.
Ms Dennes also commented on what she thought was the use of intrusive texts and calls.
A submitter who asked for their name to be withheld believed that political calls were an invasion of privacy and suggested providing voters the option to opt-out:
The claim that it allows politicians to get their message to the electorate is all very well but it runs against privacy principles that are applied in most other contexts. It is another example of politicians seeing themselves as somehow special and different to everyone else (which only feeds the existing cynicism of politicians). It is in fact an intrusive invasion of privacy. Worse, no matter how outrageous or outlandish the claims made in the calls, there is no right of reply. That is profoundly undemocratic. If not outlawed, there should be severe penalties for misleading & deceptive calls and an ability to opt out of robot calling. By all means call to the end of the campaign period, but again the ability to do so should it be determinant of the availability or length of a pre-polling period.
The ACMA noted that while they were responsible for regulating research and telemarketing calls, the current legislation did not cover political calls, emails or SMS:
In that area we are responsible for regulating telemarketing and research calls, and commercial electronic messages in Australia under a number of pieces of legislation and associated instruments, including the Do Not Call Register Act, the Spam Act and the Telecommunications (Telemarketing and Research Calls) Industry Standard. Research calls, including political surveys and opinion polling, are bound by rules under the telemarketing industry standard, including prohibited calling times; however, dedicated political calls, emails or SMS are not covered by any of the acts or instruments the ACMA enforces.
In April 2020, the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation (SECL) Committee tabled its report on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Unsolicited Communications) Bill 2019.
The intention of the Bill was to address concerns raised by some members of the public over unsolicited communications from charities and political parties. The SECL Committee’s report on the Bill noted:
Unsolicited electronic communications from political entities have received mainstream attention in recent years. For example, the text messages sent en masse to voters during the same-sex marriage postal survey and the 2019 federal election both received considerable media coverage.
The submissions received on the Bill ‘noted that the bill’s proposed amendments to legislation regulating political communication would improve transparency, especially in election campaigns’. The report added that submitters were generally of the view that:
… there already exists an ‘abundance of political communication during election campaigns’, and that voters who do not wish to receive communication from a certain political party or candidate should have the right to indicate so on a central register.
The right to privacy and choice were key themes that were raised by submitters who were supportive of the Bill’s intent. However, evidence from submitters argued that the Bill would have a detrimental effect on the conduct and operations of charities to raise money.
The SECL Committee recommended that the Bill not be passed stating:
While the committee is empathetic with the broad intentions of the bill, it considers that, if enacted, the bill would unduly affect the charity sector. The committee therefore recommends that the bill not be passed.
As part of its inquiry into the 2016 Federal election, the JSCEM provided an interim report on authorisation of voter communication which it tabled on 7 February 2017.
The JSCEM’s report made six recommendations that specifically addressed the matter of authorisation of electoral materials including that the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (the Electoral Act) be amended to:
include a separate part/division addressing authorisations, and that the requirements should be clear, concise and easy to navigate;
include an objects clause to complement and strengthen existing legislation; and
ensure consistency between all other relevant legislation and in relation to authorisation of electoral advertising.
In response to the JSCEM’s recommendations, the Government passed the Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (the Authorisation Amendment Act) on 11 September 2017 which:
… amended and broadened the authorisation requirements in the Electoral Act to:
apply to electoral communications at all times during the year, not just communications made during the election period leading up to polling day; and
cover all forms of communications including printed material, social media, voice calls (including robocalls) and text messaging (for example, bulk text messaging).
On 1 January 2019, the Government passed the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Act 2018, which ‘made further amendments to the authorisation requirements to clarify what communications will be electoral matter.’
Authorisation of political campaign material
The issue of whether third parties, anonymous individuals or political organisations purporting to represent a political party on campaign material, particularly on social media, was briefly touched on by some submitters.
Mr Dean Haywood, private capacity, raised a number of concerns about whether some advertising during the 2019 Federal election was properly authorised including:
Advertisements that did not contain the correct name of a political organisation;
Advertisements that were not authorised;
How to Vote cards not showing the name of the printer who printed the card.
Mr Haywood was particularly concerned that third parties could ‘put up unauthorized election advertising and as long as it has a link to a web page with suitable authorisation.’ Mr Haywood provided an example of where a political party’s advertisement contained a link to the party’s web page through a ‘Learn More’ hyperlink rather than an authorisation. While superficially the advertisement appears to be on behalf of that political party, Mr Haywood submitted, ‘that there are some grounds for suspecting it was actually provided by a third party.’
The Australian Greens commented that they were ‘made aware of a number of anonymous or inadequately authorised electoral matters published on social media’ adding their view that the ‘scope and enforceability of the authorisation rules remains problematic.’ They believed that there was a lack of transparency with the current authorisation requirements:
The focus on direct authorisation of electoral material allows advertising to purport to be from disinterested / non-partisan sources, despite being sponsored by specific interest groups or political organisations. This lack of transparency undermines the purpose of authorisation.
The Australian Greens were also of the view that there was a ‘problem with incorrectly authorised or unauthorised printed materials that are dispersed on election day’ which:
… leaves officials, Divisional offices and the AEC in a difficult position if such materials are being distributed as there is almost no time for the AEC to mount a formal response.
The AEC highlighted that ‘the authorisation requirements applying to electoral communications were broadened to cover social media’ in 2018.
The AEC commented that while they ‘warned some candidates, parties and third parties about distributing how to vote cards that were not authorised in accordance with the Electoral Act’, ‘the majority of people authorised material correctly.’
A number of submitters made suggestions for recommendations. Mr Haywood recommended to:
change the authorisation rules to make it clear that when the advertisement is authorised by a political party, the name of the political party must be one of the parties on the AEC Register of political parties; and
examine the need for the name of the printer who printed the card to be provided on all How to Vote Cards.
The Australian Greens commented that the current authorisation requirements should remain in place but recommended investigating:
options for improving the transparency of authorisations for electoral material sponsored by third parties; and
a system of pre registration for some printed materials to pre-empt any authorisation issues well in advance of polling day as is required by some State electoral commissions.
Submitters that asked for their name to be withheld suggested that How to Vote cards be authorised by the candidate and the party and ‘returning officers should be instructed to check that all How to Vote material is legal with the authorisation clearly printed.’
The Science Party recommended that authorisations require specific font sizes:
Require authorisations for written material to appear in a font size that can be read by a person with 20/20 vision without the use of any visual aid, and no smaller than 10% of the size of the largest text in the design.
The JSCEM understands the concerns of some about truth in political election campaigns but believes any proposed solutions, rather than introduce transparency, would make the system more opaque.
The JSCEM believes the best arbiter of truth in election campaigns is an engaged electorate, rather than another well-funded quango.
One of the unintended, or intended, consequences of regulating campaign expenditure through spending caps is that it massively disadvantages parties that do not have historical links to campaign organisations.
Some campaign organisations have significant resources which can be engaged during times of elections. For example, in Queensland there are a significant number of trade unions. If each unions’ campaign expenditure is capped at similar amounts to the candidate or political party, they can essentially pool their resources and significantly outspend their opponent. It is essentially structural financial gerrymandering that discriminates against one side of politics over another.
This is the danger when regulating campaign expenditure – that the organised side of politics, which does tend to be the Centre Left, will have a structural advantage over the Right side of politics.
The JSCEM also believes that spending caps are a handbrake on freedom of political expression and does not support the introduction of spending caps.