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Thursday, 18 March 2010
Page: 2173

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:19 AM) —I put forward a dissenting report to this inquiry into the events in the division of Lindsay. The Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has yet again failed to tackle the matter of truth in advertising. It is all very well to look at who authorised or did not authorise a document, but both of the big parties are locked into a campaign to prevent the administration of justice for voters in that they should not be misled on the way to the ballot box.

Just a moment ago, we saw the Liberals and Nationals vote against a motion that the government should amend the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 before the next federal election to incorporate a ‘truth in political advertising’ unit to monitor and regulate political advertising to ensure it is true and accurate. We have the big parties continuing to campaign to prevent there being an independent watchdog on lies, misrepresentation and fraudulent behaviour through electoral advertising. I call both of the big parties to account on this. It is corrupt practice that is being aided and abetted by what their political representatives do in this place, and it is time it was stopped.

Today the Labor Party are distributing leaflets in Tasmania claiming that the Greens would strip resources from Catholic and private schools. That is manifestly untrue. The Labor Party knows that the Greens support every dollar going to the Catholic and private school system but want to see the public system get better funding. This concocted misrepresentation, this lie, going to the Tasmanian voters from the Labor Party apparatchiks in Tasmania is being aided and abetted by the Liberals, who have just voted down a move to get truth in advertising. Why is that? Because in 2006 it was the Liberals, with the Exclusive Brethren, who were peddling lies and concocted misrepresentation about the Greens to deceive voters on their way to the ballot box. We also see it in South Australia, with the Labor Party’s attack on Isobel Redmond, the head of the Liberals. This is a total misrepresentation of a decent woman with the concocted advertising that we are seeing from the Labor Party in that state, misleading voters on the way to the ballot box in South Australia.

I ask you, Madam Acting Deputy President, is it not manifest that the representatives of the big parties in this parliament are aiding and abetting corruption of the political system by refusing to move to end this lying and fraudulent behaviour in electoral advertising material? Why do they do it? Because it does deceive voters and it does change votes. It is the worst of political behaviour but it is being aided and abetted by members of the big political parties in this parliament time and again, because they refuse to move to support the Greens in having this matter cleaned up. It is abhorrent behaviour and it is time it was called to book. And it is time the people of Australia got some gumption and some decency out of their politicians in moving to end this fraudulent behaviour which deprives the people of Australia of their right to be honestly dealt with in the run-up to elections. Labor does it; the Liberals do it; the Nationals do it. They fail time and time again to move for truth in advertising. I have put on the books today a move for there to be an independent commissioner for integrity in electoral matters. I have no doubt that Labor and Liberal will vote that down as well, because they want lies, because they back fraudulent behaviour and because they are in the business, manifestly, of corruptly misleading voters on the way to the ballot box.

It is time this was cleaned up. I say to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd: you should be supporting a change to the Electoral Act to insist on truth in political advertising. I say to the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Tony Abbott: you should be supporting the Greens’ move to clean up the Electoral Act and to give the Electoral Commission the power to insist on truth in advertising. When you vote down motions that aim at that end, you are manifestly supporting lying, fraudulent behaviour and corruption of the political process. You cannot have it both ways. These are strong words but they need to be said and the challenge needs to be issued in this parliament. It is disgraceful behaviour by the big parties. They come in with a report like this where partisan politics takes place and they are fighting about who was the worst in a process of defrauding the people of Lindsay of their right to be properly informed. But they refuse to support moves to clean up the Electoral Act to prevent this from happening again. They are talking about who authorised or did not authorise material. That is important; the Electoral Act is strong on that. But when it comes to truth in advertising, and properly and decently dealing with your opponents in a mature and educated democracy, they will not have a bar of it. They should hang their heads in shame. It is disgraceful behaviour by both Liberal and Labor, and it is rolling itself out now with these Labor attack ads in both Tasmania and South Australia; as it did with the Liberal attack ads just at the last election. It is time it stopped.

I can tell both parties I will campaign on this all the way to the federal election. You can turn down our moves to bring decency into our electoral system, to stop the lying and the fraudulent behaviour and the misleading of voters—

Senator Ian Macdonald —What about your lying on the Traveston Crossing dam?

Senator BOB BROWN —We get Senator Macdonald in here defending that lying and fraudulent behaviour and misleading of electors. And here he is in full flight in defence of that system. It is disgraceful behaviour by that senator. But it is not him that counts; it is the leader of his party, who will not stand up for truth in advertising—

Senator Ian Macdonald —You are so dishonest.

Senator BOB BROWN —He calls me dishonest. Here we go with attack on the process, not on the issue of truth itself, because they will not face up to it.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Cash)—Order! Senator Bob Brown is entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator Bernardi interjecting—

Senator BOB BROWN —You withdraw that comment. Madam Acting Deputy President, I ask that that comment be withdrawn.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, it was not a comment on the record and as such I would ask you to continue.

Senator BOB BROWN —I would not expect it of that cowardly senator to withdraw that comment. I am talking about Senator Bernardi. That is behaviour that we would be expecting to get—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senators, we will resume the debate on the motion. Senator Bob Brown, you have two minutes and 36 seconds left.

Senator BOB BROWN —And ultimately that is it: cowardice by politicians who will not stand up for the democratic system—for the right of voters not to be lied to, which is rampant in politics at federal and state level; and it is time it was cleaned up.

Senator Ian Macdonald —What about the Traveston Crossing dam?

Senator BOB BROWN —Senator Macdonald wants to defend it but he will not get away with it. We will continue to campaign for a new integrity in political matters while ever the Liberal and Labor parties in a cowardly way refuse to tackle the issue of fairly representing to the electorate truth when it comes to electoral campaigns.