Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Referendum Machinery Act Amendment

7 March 2023



These amendments seek to prevent misleading and deceptive advertising in the upcoming referendum campaign. These amendments, which will prohibit misleading or deceptive political advertising and referenda advertising, are a practical, popular and proven way to clean up our politics. They approach the regulation of political advertising with caution and respect for our constitutional freedom of political communication.

They are also urgent. We live in a world where our democracy is under attack from disinformation. A vote based on lies and misleading information lacks social licence and divides our communities. It lacks legitimacy and erodes trust in election results. As Brexit demonstrated, referenda are particularly vulnerable to misinformation and disinformation. In his review of every Australian referendum, Scott Bennett concluded that a great deal of exaggeration and distortion is standard fare. Already, baseless claims that the Voice would constitute a third chamber of parliament have polluted the public debate. For this reason, Professors Gabrielle Appleby and Lisa Hill last year recommended enacting truth in political advertising laws to protect the legitimacy of the referendum. Social media companies, such as Facebook, have voluntarily removed misleading and deceptive advertisements from their platforms, based on advice from the RMIT Fact Check team.

Almost three-quarters of Australians came across false political advertising during the 2022 federal election campaign. Australians were relentlessly targeted with SMS advertising making all sorts of wild claims. We should have protections against this type of attack in advance of the referendum. Nine out of 10 Australians want truth in political advertising legislated in advance of the next election. Really, in this context, the 'next election' will be this referendum. We should have these protections in place to have a debate grounded in facts that the public can rely on.