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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1725

Senator JACK EVANS(11.41) —I wish to make a brief and fervent plea to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) and to the Government to reconsider what they are doing with this amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. As the person who was the subject of a very expensive, bitter and vitriolic attack through paid advertisements in Western Australia in 1980--

Senator Robert Ray —This will not stop it; that is the point.

Senator JACK EVANS —Senator Ray indicates, quite rightly, that without the injunction procedures that Senator Macklin will move later on, it would not be possible to stop that sort of thing from taking place, but there are remedies available to us. My appeal to the Attorney-General is to hold back this misleading advertising provision. Let us have one election where we can take a small step forward to counter the misleading advertising that takes place in elections. We are about to have probably the most expensive election campaign that has ever been held in this country. It could well turn into a Nixon type campaign. Most of us here will recall that Nixon got to be President of the United States of America through a gross, very expensive and misleading election campaign.

This is what, with the support of all parties in this chamber, we endeavoured to reform in the legislation which was passed only a year ago. It addressed the very problem from which I suffered, that is, that despite the opinions of a lot of people that there were provisions to protect individuals and parties from deliberately misleading advertisements, the High Court of Australia ruled that there was no such provision. The Joint Select Committee on Electoral Reform looked at this and came down with a recommendation that we provide, at the very least, some protection to politicians and political parties against other politicians and political parties-and individuals outside those parties, incidentally-from grossly misleading advertisements.

I think this amendment to the legislation is being rushed through for reasons that nobody can really assess. Senator Mason hinted that it might be because there are quite obvious benefits in it for the major parties and therefore they have got together and agreed that it will be a good thing, that this will be another weapon to use against minor parties and independents. Whether that is the reason for rushing it through at this time, before it has had a chance to be tried before the electorate, I do not know. But I do know that the Australian Democrats, through Senator Macklin, have come up with some amendments that would make the Act workable. It would be possible to test that legislation through an election, and if it was found wanting at that stage, it would be possible to modify it following the election which we are facing on 1 December.

Therefore I appeal to the Attorney-General to think again about the damage that is going to be done by repealing what was a good piece of legislation, subject to some modification, by rejecting what was a very worthwhile endeavour to get some truth and honesty into political advertising. Even if we cannot get it into the political cut and thrust out in the electorate or in the two Houses of the Parliament, at least let us take that step forward which would give us a chance of cleaning up the advertising which takes place during an election campaign, which is quite patently aimed at misleading electors and which they will discover only after the election if we do not provide some measures to prevent that from taking place. After the election, as we have all found out to our pain and suffering in the past, is far too late for the electorate to discover that it has been misled.