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Wednesday, 11 May 2011
Page: 2233

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (10:35): I do not propose to detain the chamber for long on this issue, but I do want to clarify one or two issues that were raised, particularly those raised by Senator Feeney. I acknowledge, though perhaps I did not do so strongly enough in my remarks, that I was deliberately providing some context for the views that I raised on Senator Xenophon's amendments. I quite freely acknowledge that the scope of these amendments is much narrower than the range of issues that I addressed, and I merely wanted to put on the record that this is something that we have long had a view on, not just because we have had many of these tactics deployed against us but also because they are in fact fundamental to the way that democratic debate is conducted in this country.

I apologise to Senator Xenophon for perhaps steering the conversation away from the direction in which his amendment intended it to go. I enjoyed Senator Ryan's contribution. I think that is precisely the kind of debate that we are trying to provoke here, and again I would raise the parallel with the way that we conduct debates and disputes in the trade practices realm. It is not currently lawful in this country—or, at least, it can be contested and disputed whether it is lawful—to lie and deliberately try to deceive people in commercial conduct. The matter of where we set the bar as to what constitutes decep­tive conduct is, I think, the interesting con­ver­sation, and the bumper sticker example is a perfect one. That kind of conversation is precisely what we are trying to provoke here, given the severe consequences of deceptive conduct which attempts to change the political future of the country when it is engaged in during election campaigns. I do not think it is appropriate at all that people should have no recourse whatsoever when they are casting their vote if conduct is being engaged in that is blatantly deceptive. enator Xenophon has raised a valuable point here. My comments were simply intended to broaden the debate and to remind senators that there is a great deal of unfinished business hanging over this chamber, includ­ing many of the issues that Senator Ryan raised, such as the independence and impartiality of the Electoral Commissioner as the umpire but particularly the fact that there is really no recourse—there is no backstop at the moment—for conduct engaged in on polling day or sustained, heavy advertising campaigns that are blatantly deceptive. At the moment, regrettably, it is people who shout the loudest who are able to potentially influence voting behaviour.

We are simply pointing to the fact that this is conduct that needs to be addressed, because it is not as though it is a one-off. In every election that I have been involved in over the last 11 or 12 years, there has been an example you can point to where somebody simply has not been playing fair. Not all of the examples that come to mind would be contestable or appealable under the kinds of mechanisms that we are contem­plating, but at least let us get something in place so that we can debate exactly how high that bar should be set.