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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto
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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Dick, Milton, MP
Morton, Ben, MP
Giles, Andrew, MP
Macdonald, Sen Ian
Leyonhjelm, Sen David
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Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
(Joint-Friday, 11 November 2016)
CHAIR (Senator Reynolds)
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
Senator IAN MACDONALD
- Dr Pelling
Content WindowJoint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters
Conduct of the 2016 federal election and matters related thereto
CARROLL, Mr Noah Michael, National Secretary, Campaign Director, Australian Labor Party
CHAIR: Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath I should advise that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and it attracts parliamentary privilege. I invite you to make a brief opening statement before we proceed to the discussion.
Mr Carroll : I am pleased to attend this hearing of the inquiry of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters into the conduct of the 2016 federal election. On 26 September 2016, I had the honour of being elected National Secretary of the Labor Party. This is the first time I have been invited to be appear before the committee in my capacity as National Secretary and I certainly hope it will not be the last time. The national secretariat made a detailed submission in writing to this inquiry, which I trust has been made available to committee members.
CHAIR: It has.
Mr Carroll : The submission goes to the complete scope of the inquiry's terms of reference, though I understand that today the committee will focus on the question of authorisation requirements for electoral advertisements. The Australian Labor Party complies with any and all current authorisation rules. We always have and we always will. We believe that any changes to authorisation requirements should be informed by some key principles. First, that the purpose of authorisation requirements is to allow electors to identify the person responsible for printing or broadcasting electoral advertisements. Second, that as far as possible the rules for authorisation should be format neutral. They should not vary in an arbitrary fashion, depending on the medium through which an advertisement is communicated. Thirdly, authorisation requirements should not interfere with the purpose of the advertisement, which is to communicate with electors about an election, which is fundamental to our national democracy.
As you will see from our submission we believe that the current authorisation rules could be much improved. Authorisation rules have been developed over time and in a piecemeal fashion and the rules vary widely, depending on the format of the advertisement and the medium of communication. As a result, the rules are confusing and difficult to administer. It is clear to me that the rules have also not kept up with technological change and are unfit for the digital age, especially when it comes to social media. This can be demonstrated by looking at the very complex rules surrounding the authorisation of printed materials. If the ALP prints an electoral advertisement in hard copy it must be authorised according to the printed material rule under subsection 328(1) of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, which requires, at the end of the material, the authoriser's name, the authoriser's full daytime street address, plus the name of the printer, plus the printer's place of business. However, if an identical advertisement is published online by, for example, uploading onto Facebook a PDF file of the advertisement, it does not need to be authorised, providing the ALP does not pay for the advertisement to be broadcast, pursuant to the internet rule under section 328A. If the text of that advertisement is broadcast in an SMS message it is not necessary to include an authorisation. If that same advertisement is published in a newspaper it must instead be authorised according to the newspaper authorisation rule under subsection 328(1)(a) and section 331 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918—again, authoriser's name, authoriser's full daytime street address, plus a headline stating 'Advertisement' in letters no smaller than 10 points above the advertisement.
If these newspaper advertisement is spread across two pages then it must also carry the following on both pages: authoriser's name, authoriser's full daytime street address, plus a headline stating 'Advertisement' in letters no smaller than 10 points above the advertisement. But that additional requirement will not apply if the advertisement a) is contained within 1) a broken or unbroken border, 2) broken or unbroken lines extending across or partly across the top and bottom of the advertisement, or 3) a broken or unbroken line extending along or partly along each side of the advertisement, or, b) or is printed so that to read one or more lines of the text of the advertisement it is necessary to read across both pages.
The complexity of the rules surrounding the publication of printed electoral advertisements, depending on the format in which they are published, shows just how complicated these rules are. Those examples are very important. Similarly, the rules are as complicated for electoral advertisements broadcast in audio-visual format. The ALP supports the implementation of a uniform authorisation rule which is format-neutral. A format-neutral uniform authorisation rule would reduce the regulatory burden of authorisations on candidates, political parties and regulators such as the Australian Electoral Commission and would be easier to understand and more predictable for electors.
In closing, I would like to note that, while authorisation of electoral advertisements is important, there are also other pressing issues where the transparency and accountability of our democracy needs to be improved. The ALP strongly believes that there is an urgent need for increased transparency in relation to political donations, and that is touched on in our submission to this inquiry and has been prosecuted by the Labor Party in parliament. I am happy to take questions.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Carroll. First of all, on behalf of the committee, welcome to your first appearance before the committee. I note that it will not be the last time you will be asked to appear because, as you just pointed out, we have a number of very important issues to work through. We appreciate your detailed submission, particularly on the area of authorisation, so thank you.
Mr DICK: Thanks, Mr Carroll. I know you are relatively new in your position. One of the areas about which we have had quite a bit of discussion today so far, and it will continue, is the issue of authorisation. I note in your submission, in part 1(a), the terms of reference about the authorisation requirements, you go into printed material. We had some discussion this morning with the Electoral Commission around what is deemed to be front or back materials and the lot, which we will continue to expand on in terms of proper authorisation. Are you aware of any serious authorisation breaches in the past? Are you aware of any court action and the penalties associated for any complaints, and are there any statements around that?
Mr Carroll : Thank you for the question. Probably the most egregious example was the 2007 election in the seat of Lindsay where the husband of a former Liberal member of the federal parliament was convicted. He was not charged with producing a deceptive pamphlet but with the lesser charge of producing an unauthorised pamphlet. Not second-guessing the courts, I think that in some respects he was quite fortunate to not be given a harsher charge because, on the face of it, considering that the subject matter was of a very reprehensible type, not just purporting to peddle a misleading statement—
Mr DICK: I cannot remember exactly what that was. It was before my time of being elected. Was it printed material? What was the nature of it?
Mr Carroll : It was printed material and it related to an erroneous allegation that attempted to link the Labor Party with radical Islam. It was handed out and, basically, the team that was handing them out was very close and went to Jackie Kelly's campaign. They were ultimately convicted and it was pretty serious. I think the magistrate said it was the worst offence of that type he had seen. That is probably the best case study of not just the allegation of something occurring but it went through the court process and it was ultimately followed through.
Mr DICK: Found to be illegal.
Mr Carroll : Found to be illegal. The fine was not overly punitive in terms of finance, but obviously the embarrassment to a pretty prominent family in that community was pretty strong. I note with great irony that he spent his life as an orthodontist straightening teeth, but he obviously was not all that straight with the tooth!
Mr DICK: Sure. So, in terms of authorisation, if that were the case, the material was obviously defamatory. We had a discussion this morning about materials, front and back, when it is authorised. I have seen materials in my community which are pretty offensive, but there is a small authorisation on the back. There is some example that, 'You don't turn it over and read it,' but in this case you are talking about no authorisation at all.
Mr Carroll : Not that I recall. And, somewhat instructively, the content itself was not the subject matter of the proceeding, necessarily, in terms of the final finding—even though, in my view, what was actually being peddled was reprehensible. It was actually just about the authorisation issue. In terms of some broader discussions I understand your committee will be having in that space, the Ministry of Truth argument, I think, is a really interesting case study to examine.
Mr DICK: I am conscious of the time, Chair. We have Mr Orr coming in shortly, so I will yield to other members.
Mr MORTON: Could I have a quick clarification on one issue, then I will move on to another. The Labor Party, in your submission, supports a level playing field in relation to authorisations. You are concerned about any proposal to impose stricter regulations on participants or class participants like GetUp!, trade unions and the like. At the moment those organisations are treated exactly the same as a political party in relation to the authorisation of electoral material. Are you suggesting that if there is an increase in the authorisation standards for political parties that these organisations should not have any stricter regulations imposed on them, or are you suggesting that they should remain the same as political parties and have no more stricter regulations than what a political party has?
Mr Carroll : I think some of it is very easy to get lost in the weeds, so to speak. If the intent is pretty clear for everybody on your committee, it just has to be pretty clear who is speaking the message, who is authorising the message. I do not necessarily see the debate about two classes of engagement being the be all and end all, or anything like that. I think the basic objective, if possible, is if your committee is able to get a pretty good rule of thumb—
Mr MORTON: It should apply to all?
Mr Carroll : Possibly.
Mr MORTON: It might not surprise you, but we are looking at text messaging. You would have seen this text message sent by someone called Medicare about Mr Turnbull's plans.
Mr Carroll : I saw newspaper reports in relation to it. I did not personally receive it, as you suspect.
Mr MORTON: So you are aware of it, at least. In relation to your submission, how do you suggest in your submission we deal with that? I was a little bit confused. The way I read it, it was that if you were doing a Facebook post and it said the same thing, that you would not need to—you are suggesting in paragraph 26 of your submission that, if the text of that advertisement is broadcast in an SMS, it is not necessary to include an authorisation. If we did everything you wanted in your submission, would this be authorised?
Mr Carroll : My rule of thumb was that whatever you are doing in one format, you do in all of them. That was the basic submission. In terms of the way you are attempting to characterise what is in the submission, I am happy to speak for myself, so I will do that. What I am putting is: how can we improve the existing act? That is obviously the mission that your joint standing committee is engaging in. We are here to assist with that process.
There is a prospective nature to that submission, and that is the crux of it—that is a prospective recommendation on how to improve it, as opposed to how we found it in the 2016 campaign. As I have made clear in the submission, it has been a piecemeal effort since day one with this space. It needs to catch up. I think everyone is very conscious of how much the digital age has very aggressively crowded out more traditional media in a lot of respects. That trend is going to continue and, if we do not get ahead of it, it is going to basically be something that we are going to regret, I suspect.
Mr MORTON: Just to check, in your submission you talk about printed material being authorised in relation to that on Facebook—it would not need the uploading of a pdf file, it would not need to be authorised, but if the text of that advertisement is broadcast as an SMS message, it is not necessary to include an authorisation. I am just clarifying that, obviously, we need to look at the past to see how we go in the future. If we follow your submission and we do what you want, would this text message in future have an authorisation telling me who authorised it?
Mr Carroll : It is the chicken or the egg. If the recommendation from the committee is very much 'yes' format neutral, what I would say about that text message is that whatever happens with that should happen with all printed material and anything on social media et cetera. We should just have one standard rule, preferably, and hopefully you guys can do the fine work to get us to that point.
Mr MORTON: In relation to this particular text message, on 2 July—obviously, election day—a spokesman for the Labor campaign told news.com.au that the party was not responsible for the bulk messages, and denied knowledge of this text campaign. Who was the spokesperson?
Mr Carroll : I could not assist you with the ins and outs and details of it because I was obviously not in the national office at the time.
Mr MORTON: There was a report in The Sydney Morning Herald on 2 August where Labor's Queensland branch confirmed it sent the text message. The article states:
… a spokesman said they had not intended to give the impression Medicare was the sender, but rather that it was the subject of the text message.
Which of the two is correct?
Mr Carroll : In terms of the statement you just made, I have given my answer in relation to my knowledge of that. I would make the point with that particular point: I think any reasonable person taking a look at the image that you are holding would also deduce that it was the intent of that approach to just clarify the subject matter that was being traversed. Obviously, the AFP have also examined this and said there is no issue in terms of the act; there is no issue anywhere. I think any reasonable person would see that as just clarifying the subject matter of the message, and that is obviously about freedom of speech and about political debate, and that is a healthy thing.
Mr MORTON: When you receive text messages, where it says 'Medicare', is that normally where the subject line is or does that normally indicate it is the person you are receiving it from?
Mr Carroll : I am very limited in my mobile phone—
Mr MORTON: It is unusual for a person in your position to be limited in—
Mr Carroll : If I could finish, what I was going to say is that I have only ever used one format of mobile phone. For all I know, there could be multiple formats that obviously would translate that output in a very different way, so I cannot speak to that.
Mr MORTON: I have multiple formats here. In relation to the comment—
Mr GILES: Sorry, Mr Morton, if you have—
CHAIR: Do you have a point of order?
Mr MORTON: The line of questioning will become clearer.
CHAIR: Hang on, both of you, please. Do you have a point of order, Mr Giles?
Mr GILES: If matters are to be put to a witness, they should be received into evidence, shouldn't they?
CHAIR: Are you seeking for Mr Morton to table the messages?
Mr GILES: I think I would make two points, not as formal points of order but perhaps to assist the committee.
CHAIR: If you are going to interrupt Mr Morton, I would like it to be as a point of order and we will deal with it as a point of order
Mr GILES: As a point of order, and perhaps some guidance—I do not see how some of the matters Mr Morton has been putting Mr Carroll go to matters properly before the inquiry or matters that he is in any position to give evidence in respect of, going to the format of how text messages are sent or received. There are other witnesses who could provide that evidence but not Mr Carroll, with the greatest of respect. Secondly, if particular matters are to be put to any witness, they should be received as submissions first.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: On the first point raised, Mr Carroll is obviously a professional and has a view on these things, and I think it is legitimate to ask him his view as a professional on the things that Mr Morton was putting to him.
Senator Leyonhjelm interjecting—
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Leyonhjelm. I am aware of my duties as the chair. On this point of order, I have listened carefully to the questions and I think Mr Morton is absolutely on point because it is relating to a form of political communication that was used at the last election and there is a discussion about what that might look like in future under our authorisation regime. So I think it is relevant, but I would remind Mr Morton to ensure that it stays on point given the time.
Mr MORTON: I am referring you as the national secretary to the report on 2 August in The Sydney Morning Herald where the Queensland branch confirmed that the text message was not 'intended to give the impression that Medicare was the sender but rather that it was the subject of the text message'. Is that right?
Mr Carroll : That I am aware of the newspaper article? Yes.
Mr MORTON: Do you accept the statement that it was not intended by your organisation to give the impression that Medicare was the sender but rather that it was your intention that Medicare was the subject of the text message?
Mr Carroll : I accept that explanation—I said that up-front. It is about clarifying the subject matter.
Mr MORTON: So therefore—
CHAIR: Let him answer the question, Mr Morton.
Mr Carroll : That was the statement that was made. I accept that on good faith and I think any reasonable person would.
Mr MORTON: Why did it take till 2 August for the Queensland branch to confirm that they had knowingly made a mistake? Are you aware of when they may have been first aware that this unintended text message had been sent?
Mr Carroll : Again, I cannot go to the particulars about the ins and outs and decision-making therein. I can, however, probably speculate that the reason why there might have been a delay in the response was the shrill response of the Prime Minister on the night of the election in relation to it.
CHAIR: Sorry, Mr Carroll, if your evidence is now speculation, it would be preferable for you to take it on notice and come back with something that is not speculation.
Mr Carroll : He actually did ask me the question about the content—
Mr GILES: The question is entirely about speculation.
CHAIR: But, if you are saying you are not able to answer it—
Mr Carroll : I am actually answering the question directly, respectfully, Chair.
CHAIR: Then continue, as long as it is not pure speculation.
Mr Carroll : I note that I am having some of my answers curtailed, but some of the questions are not—but nonetheless.
CHAIR: I have actually just—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do not worry about it.
CHAIR: Please keep going, Mr Carroll.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: When you eventually get to parliament you will understand.
Mr GILES: The question directly asked him to speculate. These are not matters which can be in his direct knowledge. He was asked to speculate. He has to be entitled to speculate.
Mr MORTON: I will move onto my next question.
Mr Carroll : I am happy to stop speculating if that makes things easy.
Mr MORTON: No doubt you have looked into this issue since becoming the national secretary. I should not speculate, but I assume you have.
CHAIR: Maybe ask that as a question up-front, so we are out of the realm of speculation.
Mr MORTON: Have you looked into these matters since becoming national secretary?
Mr Carroll : Within reason. Obviously the first and foremost question I would always ask is: did we undertake anything in relation to that campaign that was not in full compliance with the act? I was very satisfied that this in no way, shape or form transgressed the act. Equally, I would submit, it did not in any way breach the spirit of it, because, as I have said to you multiple times, I accept the explanation that it was seeking to clarify the subject matter of the message. I think any reasonable person looking at the image of that text—because that is obviously a live scene—would also conclude that.
Mr MORTON: Are you aware of the software that was used or the process that was used to send the text message?
Mr Carroll : No, I am not.
Mr MORTON: In other communications done by the Labor Party, whether by text message or by email, is there normally a process for having the communications sent to a smaller group of people for testing purposes? And do you normally use that—
Mr GILES: Chair, it is very difficult for me to understand how these questions on the internal functioning of the Australian—
CHAIR: Is this a point of order?
Mr GILES: Yes, it is a point of order. Again, it is very difficult for me to understand—and perhaps you might make a ruling on this—how the internal decision making operations of the Labor Party can be germane to the terms of reference of this inquiry.
CHAIR: Apart from asking for speculation by speculation, which I have ruled on, I think Mr Morton is on point, because this directly relates to forms of communication from the last election which were in the public arena and we are now looking at authorisation processes from the Electoral Commission and also, obviously, party processes and procedures on how we actually deal with it. I note that we will also have other party directors and secretaries—
Mr GILES: And a consistent approach will be taken?
Mr MORTON: The LNP's submission to this inquiry states that:
The strategy behind Labor’s 'Medicare' text relied upon the fact that they would not have to include a Labor Party authorisation. If it had, voters would have the information they needed to judge Labor's actions for what they were …
Was it a strategy to make sure that the sender of the text message was unknown?
Mr Carroll : Are you inviting me to speculate?
Mr MORTON: Are you aware that it was a strategy?
Mr Carroll : I would say this: one of the more amusing aspects of this entire line of questioning is that the Liberal Party and the National Party have fundamentally misunderstood why this message might have been effective. It has been characterised, in some respects, by suggesting it was somehow only effective because it did not actually say who was sending it. I would deny that outright. I think the reason it was so effective is that everyone knew that the conservative parties had never seen a cut to Medicare they did not like. The electorate completely accept that. They know that you all voted against it, they know that you have tried to cut it at every opportunity you have had and they also know that it was under threat. They considered it a legitimate debate—and they still do—but by virtue of the denial required in this caucus at the moment amongst the Liberal and the National Party they have to run this line that this was a thing that jagged and meant that they did not win. The reality is: you run a pretty bad campaign at times, and you did so in 2016. That is the reality of it. I would put that the reason it was effective as a message, broadly, is that the message is truthful and people believe it. That is the most important thing and that is what political debate is about.
Mr MORTON: In our consideration of what should be applied in the future in relation to authorisation requirements, I was trying to ascertain whether a mistake was made by your Queensland branch. That was because they said it was not their intent that it appear that the message came from Medicare. I was trying to work out: was there an honest mistake made—it was not their intent to make it look like the message came from Medicare? If the law stays exactly the same, would you send the text message I have shown you again?
Mr Carroll : I think the message itself is one that the Labor Party had its name all over throughout the campaign in any case.
Mr MORTON: Would you send a text message that purported to come from Medicare again?
Mr Carroll : There is no issue of ever putting the party's name against something if that is what is required under the act. That is the first response, as you would expect. The second one is: in terms of reforming the law, if there is a concern about people being clear on who is sending what, I do not think it necessarily mattered who people thought that message came from; I think the reality of it is that people believed it full stop. That is why it was effective.
Mr MORTON: If the law stands as it is, you would send this message again that looks like it came from Medicare that does not identify who it is actually from? You would replicate it again?
Mr Carroll : I do not agree with the premise of the question. You are actually stating as a fact that people did not understand where it came from and who it came from. I do not accept that.
Mr MORTON: Righto.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Good afternoon, Mr Carroll. I think you might have the wrong party talking about Medicare. Liberal Democrats are a threat to Medicare but I do not think the socialists in the LNP are. But anyway—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Always honest to your beliefs anyhow.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I am going to try to stick to the terms of reference. Thank you for your submission. I thought it was a good submission.
Mr Carroll : Thank you.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I am interested in the points you made about the authorisation rules being confusing and difficult to administer, but you make a statement in there that there should be some key principles and state:
The purpose of authorisation requirements are to allow electors to identify the person responsible for printing or broadcasting electoral advertisements.
I would like you to explain why. What would happen if there was not any authorisation? What would be the implications of that? I am starting from the proposition that regulation needs to be justified and the default position is do not regulate.
Mr Carroll : The first principle outlined that, as it is in the act right now, whoever is saying or purporting a position politically actually has their name against it in the event that it is not required. At the moment there are formats where it is not required. There is an inconsistency. I cannot count how many candidates I have who do not understand until we spend a lot of time explaining to them that in one particular format you do not need to do anything and in another one you need to do a lot—to the extent, as I read out, with newspaper advertisements they even have a prescribed font size. The inconsistency is not just in my view obviously that it is not fit for purpose, but equally I think it inadvertently and unnecessarily confuses the candidates, much less the electors.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I am very well aware of these inconsistencies. The minor parties have to negotiate them as well. It is a very onerous thing. Aside from the inconsistency that some forms of advertising do have authorisation obligations and some forms—and the example you gave was of a PDF advertisement attached to an email or something like that—do not require any authorisation, what is the injury that occurs from failing to authorise the latter category?
Mr Carroll : That is a good question because, as I was outlining with the response in relation to the seat of Lindsay, that conviction did not relate to the content at all; it just pertained to the authorisation issue. What is ironic is that on a political front we are all very good at traversing the political aspect of the content question, but in real terms the only thing that has been actually enforced, certainly to date, has been the very clear understanding of what is prescriptively required to be placed on a pamphlet. Obviously it is binary: either it is there or it is not.
I think the issue with the content question—and you are asking: what is the damage?—again is something that is always very troublesome in law, because the reality is that people's remedies on a personal level if they feel aggrieved about how they have been characterised personally—and equally the person who is distributing said pamphlet and putting their name to it and/or their party to it—would not be remotely possible at all if there were no reference to who it is. But, even if it is there, I also submit that it is not likely that anything is going to happen outside of defamation proceedings obviously, which are not related to the Electoral Act. So that would be my answer to that. I think it is fantastic you guys are examining this with such rigor because it is very clear we need consistency not just for the ease of the candidates but equally for the electors.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I asked a similar question to the Electoral Commission a bit earlier this afternoon and they said words to the effect of 'so that we know who to send the documents to so we can track them down and tell them to stop doing it and if they do not stop doing it then dragged them off to court—sue them, injunct them or whatever'. I suppose there is a case for that. If that is the purpose of it—and I have not heard any other purpose suggested—then any mechanism which allows the source of an advertisement to be traced would suffice, would it not?
Mr Carroll : Within reason. For example, the question that we traverse in a serious way both financially but equally in terms of pressure is our how to vote cards that we hand out. The act is not terribly helpful at times about prescriptively outlining where on a particular format you need to put the registration and so forth on it.
Senator LEYONHJELM: I know it well.
Mr Carroll : We talk about misleading someone in the casting of their ballot. The crucial juncture that is examined, as I recall, is the timing of when material is disseminated in the actual casting of the ballot and that is actually a pertinent consideration. I make that point because one of the most egregious things that could happen to a party would be another party or person distributing a how to vote guide on behalf of a party that does not reflect what the party actually wants. So in terms of having preference orders high for a party that they certainly do not want high preferences for, that will directly lead potentially to votes being miscast. That I think is perhaps the best example of why it matters. I do not think the current act is terribly helpful in being very basic and straightforward about how it is executed. I know that, even as sophisticated as the Labor Party is and the Liberal Party is, there is a lot of back and forth about it, probably far too much internally, to actually make sure that we comply with the act, which is what we always want to do. We are doing our best but, if we are struggling with it at times, I shudder to think of how new candidates and independent candidates and small parties actually manage it.
Senator LEYONHJELM: In this internet age, if we accept that we need to track down the source of an electronic advertisement for the reason you mentioned, it may in fact get people to cast a vote in a way that is based on a misconception—them being advised incorrectly by somebody for mischievous purposes. I am not at all convinced that that is totally required. But if we take that as a given and the AEC said more or less the same thing then any mechanism would seem to me to be capable of meeting that. In the case of, say, a SMS message or an email blast or a Twitter tweet—
Mr Carroll : Twitter is problematic by virtue of the restriction on the characters.
Senator LEYONHJELM: But what I am thinking of in this internet age is a website. You can abbreviate websites to bit dot lies and that sort of thing so not many characters involved. If that was all the purpose of it was—to find out who was behind the ad so you can sue—then any mechanism including just an abbreviated website would seem to suffice, would it not?
Mr Carroll : Are you suggesting an abbreviated website link that you click on to go to?
Senator LEYONHJELM: Yes.
Mr Carroll : I am not familiar with this idea but I certainly would not suggest that you are completely in the wrong on it. It would occur to me that you could potentially have a scenario where you might have mobile phone reception but you have not got internet reception. So in the event that you get a message and you try to link to find out who authorised it, there might be significant to delay depending on where you are. That would be the only complication I could see off the top of my head with that proposal. You can have a certain amount of bars for reception at times but your internet is down.
Senator LEYONHJELM: Fair enough.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Carroll, I understood from your oral evidence that you agree that advertisements in newspapers or everywhere across two pages should have authorisation on all pages. Is that what you said, except where they are on the same opening but on two pages?
Mr Carroll : There are some basic principles that I outlined in relation to this. I was making the point about the inconsistencies across the different formats and how prescriptive newspaper advertisements, amongst others, are.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: But you thought it was a good idea that there be the maximum amount of authorisation?
Mr Carroll : No.
Mr Carroll : I do not accept that characterisation. As you would expect, my submission here is not overly prescriptive because I am conscious that I am not a member of the committee. You are all spending a lot of time working on this and you are much better placed to be making a lot of decisions in this space and hopefully reaching a consensus in relation to this.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can you just repeat what you said for my poor brain that has forgotten already.
Mr Carroll : Would you like me to read my submission again?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, if you could. The verbal one—the bit you said about the advertising.
Mr Carroll : Okay. I can do a precis. I was reading out the various examples of what is required in different formats. Newspaper advertisements, obviously, have probably got the highest bar, where it actually prescribes the font and it has got an advertisement above it. I pointed out that, on the ends of the spectrum, you have one end of the spectrum where nothing is required under the act, because it is not referring to the new technologies that we have seen, and you have the other one that is saying that you must do everything short of writing a Russian novel on it.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What do you think is the right balance?
Mr Carroll : Consistency—first and foremost.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: But which form of consistency? The newspaper form of consistency?
Mr Carroll : I think it needs to be clear where it has come from, ideally.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Let's just be clear. You are professional witness. You are in charge of an organisation that has a great interest in this. I am just wondering what you think is the right approach or the right balance?
Mr Carroll : As I said, I go to principles rather than prescriptive outlines and grocery lists of what needs to be listed. I think, if it is clear who or what—as in a political party—has authorised it and where they originate from, that would be a start. But, again, I would leave it to the committee to actually determine what it is. All I would say is that the nature of what it is needs to be consistent across every single format.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks for that. We will make a determination, but, in coming to a determination, we are guided by professionals who clearly have a view on these things, and we like to hear the views and the arguments as to why we should go that way. That is what I am simply asking you. Let me be more specific. In the case of the Medicare card, which you are no doubt aware of and heard mentioned earlier today, clearly there was no authorisation on the front page—the page that was most relevant— whereas on the back there was an authorisation. Do you think that is in order, or would you like to see changes to that?
Mr Carroll : As I submitted, I think it can be improved broadly, in terms of the act. I think it does not capture whole areas. I think, equally, it is not terribly helpful about being clear on what it is after—for example, the back and forth that we have to undertake with the Australian Electoral Commission at a given federal election about making sure our how-to-vote guides actually comply with their requirements. Some of it, as you would expect, is a grey area, so we want some operational approval from the Australian Electoral Commission to know that when we print off millions of how-to-vote guides they are not going to have to be pulped because somehow we have not done our homework with them. So the fact that you even need to do that I think is a very good working example of why—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Have you been a public servant in your life?
Mr Carroll : I'm sorry?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Have you been a public servant in a previous life?
Mr Carroll : I have not.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay. It is just the nature of your answer, but that is fine.
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald—
Mr DICK: Honestly.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is nothing wrong with that. We have evidence from public servants all the time. They have a certain way of answering, where they never answer a thing. But what I am just trying to get—
Mr DICK: We will remember that when other witnesses appear—
CHAIR: Mr Dick, this is not helping.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You can remember what you like.
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, please confine yourself to the questions. We have limited time.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: What I am trying to get from you is: do you think it would have been appropriate, in that Medicare case, for it to have been authorised on the front—the part that everyone saw—or do you think that just having it on the back was sufficient?
Mr Carroll : I see no problem with either approach, certainly under the existing arrangements. I would make the point, though, that I accepted on face value the response that it was about clarifying the subject, as opposed to any attempt—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Again, as the leader or CEO of a major participant in elections, do you think that form of advertising, where it clearly, deliberately misrepresents a card that every Australian has for health purposes—and I know it is not from your organisation—is an appropriate form of advertising?
Mr Carroll : I do not accept the premise of the question and how you have constructed it right off the bat. I think the most important thing to consider is this: the reason why so many of you are incensed about this is that you have not quite worked out how much the electorate distrusts you in this space.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Look, I am very happy to—
CHAIR: I want to make a point here in general to the committee, and also to this witness and future witnesses. I am allowing more latitude on both sides than I normally would in any other committees given that this is an inherently political and sensitive issue and an emotive issue for both witnesses and members of the panel. I thank members of the committee for not abusing that indulgence. I would note that in terms of political statements of political opinion I have allowed some of it today. Mr Carroll, you have expressed several political comments—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: He is practising for the time when he will be making them in parliament.
CHAIR: The general point is: I will allow some of that on both sides, but I just ask a little bit of restraint on everybody's behalf to make sure that we do not end up in areas we do not want to end up in.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Quite frankly, I do not care what Mr Carroll says. It is of no consequence to me.
Mr GILES: Stop asking questions, then.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: But I am interested in his view—
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, could you get back to the questions, because we have limited time left.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is what I am trying to do, Madam Chair, but you and your colleagues keep interrupting me. What I am trying to do is to get your view on, clearly, a Commonwealth government agency health card and whether you think that is an appropriate form of advertising. I understand your underlying message, and say that as often as you like; I am not going to argue with you on that. But do you think that quite clearly falsifying a Commonwealth government health card is an appropriate—
Mr GILES: Point of order, Chair. Mr Carroll cannot respond to that. No-one can respond to that. If he has something to put to the witness, he should put it to the witness without editorial.
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, I will take the point of order, because this particular issue has now been asked and answered several times of Mr Carroll.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am simply asking him: that card, does he think it—
Mr GILES: What card?
Senator IAN MACDONALD: I asked him if he understood and had seen the Medicare card and he said yes, so he knows what I am talking about. All I am asking is: do you think that is an appropriate form of getting across a political message? I will not editorialise on it being a fraudulent use of a healthcare card. I will not do that. I am just saying: you are well aware of the card. Do you think that is an appropriate form of advertising?
Mr Carroll : Through you, Chair, I will make the point that, whilst the senator can apparently add a whole range of political flourishes to his question that by their very nature spin something —
Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is Mr Gleeson all over again. Get into parliament before you—
Mr GILES: Point of order, Chair.
CHAIR: Everyone just stop. Senator Macdonald!
Mr GILES: Senator Macdonald should withdraw.
CHAIR: Mr Giles, if you just let me continue, please. Senator Macdonald, it is now late in the afternoon of this hearing. These particular questions have been asked and answered of Mr Carroll—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: They have not been answered.
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, you are not helping yourself at the moment. If you could please reduce the temperature down just a tad, and then we can finish this line of questions with Mr Carroll.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Madam Chair, if you would stop the constant interruptions and having the witness explain to me what I should be doing as a parliamentarian—if you do that—I am happy. I will go back to the question.
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, if you can go back.
Mr Dick interjecting—
CHAIR: Mr Dick, please do not. Mr Dick, I am saying—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are not in a union meeting now, Mr Dick.
CHAIR: Mr Carroll, I note that, before you made that last comment, Senator Macdonald did in effect withdraw his emotive comments and went back to ask you a very correct question—a very straight bat question. Senator Macdonald, if you could repeat that question, as you did previously, in just asking the question I would be very grateful.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Chair, I do not accept your characterisation of emotive comments, but I will go back and do as you ask yet again. Let me clarify it for my colleagues next to me. Do you know the Medicare card that I am talking about that was used in the election campaign?
Mr Carroll : I recall a card. As you know I was in Victoria at the time. I saw a card being distributed in some of the subways in Melbourne, if that is what you are referring to.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, authorised by the ACTU in Victoria—a Victoria address.
Mr Carroll : That is my recollection.
CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, if you have asked a question, please allow Mr Carroll to answer.
Mr Carroll : That is my reply.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: He did suggest he had seen it, so he knows what we are talking about. Do you think the use of that sort of card is appropriate in an election campaign in making a political message? You know what the card is, so I will not try and describe it.
Mr Carroll : It fully complies with any and all requirements under the Electoral Act so, by definition, yes.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You think that is appropriate?
Mr Carroll : I do.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks. That is all I wanted. I wanted to establish this witness's view on a fraudulent card.
Mr MORTON: Just a clarification, Mr Carroll. I know this is your first time in front of this committee. This is my first time asking questions, or being at this committee. I misunderstood in the questioning in relation to the authorisation, and I do accept that your submission today and in writing would mean that the text message that I was referring to would actually carry, under a uniform authorisation rule which you were suggesting, the name of the authoriser, their political party and their street address. I may have given the impression that I misunderstood that, and I apologise. I do understand what your submission is getting to.
Mr Carroll : Okay, but I would obviously make the clarifying statement that, in terms of what occurred in the 2016 election in this space, I fully accept the explanation offered by the Queensland branch about the reference to Medicare being a clarification of the subject, and not the allegations that are being put by some in this room.
CHAIR: Mr Carroll, thank you very much for your attendance here today, and, as I said, we look forward to welcoming you back as this committee proceeds with its many inquiries. Did you take any questions on notice? I do not recall. No, there were not. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and will have the opportunity to request corrections to any transcription errors. Thank you.
Mr Carroll : Thank you.