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Wednesday, 16 August 1989
Page: 188

Senator HARRADINE(6.26) —As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters I felt that I should enter the debate at this juncture, and I am glad that you have given me the call to do so, Mr Acting Deputy President. The Committee made recommendations in two broad areas. The first area related to the requirements on disclosure of donations to political parties and candidates, and the second area related to the provision of free advertising time by the electronic media to political parties. In respect of the first issue, I have not dissented from the recommendations contained in the report. It is my view that there should be full disclosure, and the political parties should surely have no qualms about that. The second recommendation, however, I am strongly opposed to for a number of reasons.

First of all, let me broadly detail the two major reasons for the recommendation that the electronic media provide free political advertising time for political parties. The two major reasons that influenced the majority of the Committee to make such a recommendation were these: they were based, first of all, upon the right of viewers of commercial television and the listeners to commercial radio to be informed of the issues in a particular election period, and, secondly, upon the belief that the free advertising time would release parties from the implied reliance of those parties on major donations which are required to pay for the time on the electronic media.

The recommendations contained in this report are unlikely to achieve those stated objectives. Voters who rely on the commercial electronic media for information about the issues in the election period should indeed have the opportunity to hear the considered views of political parties and candidates on major public policy issues of concern to those voters. But I ask the Senate seriously, `Does that occur now?'. At the present moment during elections for the most part there are the 10-second grabs on the news media, on television and radio, and there are the costly television launches of policy speeches, which are becoming more razzamatazz. Most typically, they are informed, so-called, through political advertisements which, for the most part, are sheer sloganeering. The old days when people had to get up in a hall and speak to the electors and be prepared to answer questions from the floor are gone. The electors currently are not able to ask about and be informed of the issues that affect them. Very often the elections come and go without the voter knowing where the candidates of the political parties stand on the issues that are of concern to them.

Over a considerable period there has been an abuse of the electronic media by the party machines, which has fostered the dominance of image over substance in election campaigning. No-one around here surely can deny that. That is the fact. The proposition that is currently before us will not overcome that problem; it will in fact exacerbate it. Why? The money saved by the political parties that would have been spent on paid advertising time on the electronic media will be poured into the production of more lavish political advertisements. The public will be afflicted with those lavish political advertisements, and image over substance will be entrenched even further.

There is no recommendation in this report as to the format that is to be used by the political parties in putting forward information in the advertising time. At least on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation at present there is some format used, although the free time that the ABC provides to political parties is getting more towards political advertising.

We have heard around the chamber today a great deal of concern about the cost of political advertising and the need for political parties to rely, presumably, on major political donors. If that is the problem, is there not a simple solution to that? Is not the solution to put a ceiling on the amount of money that can be spent by a political party or candidates in political elections? Is that not a logical solution to the problem? Of course, that was not the recommendation of the Committee. In fact, ceilings are not unknown in the political arena. In my State, for example, in the upper House, ceilings are imposed. There is not a recommendation in the report that even imposes a ceiling on the amount that can be spent by political parties on the production of the political advertisements that are going into these free time slots. If the money that is saved from purchased broadcast time is used merely for Cecil B. de Mille launches or to produce a myriad of television and radio commercials that will become extravagant exercises in political sloganeering, or if it is diverted to other forms of electioneering propaganda, the political parties, as the report seems to imply, will remain dependent upon their major donors. So the second reason advanced for the recommendation falls to the ground.

One other point I would like to raise is in respect of recommendation 13, which seeks to dilute current legislative requirements so that political advertisements can be unmistakably identified. At present, when a political advertisement comes on we know it is a political advertisement because we are told it is a political advertisement, both before and after it.

The proposal that has been put forward by the majority of the Committee is that a one-second visual should suffice at the end of the advertisement. I suggest that a one-second visual at the end of a political advertisement is insufficient for the purpose of unmistakeably identifying that political advertisement, and particularly is this so in the event that a party uses subtle sophisticated advertising techniques to denigrate the views of other parties or candidates.

Finally, I would like to say that the ban on advertising for other people in political campaigns is undemocratic. I take, say, the Royal Automobile Club of Australia's concern about the amount of money it has paid for road funding. Surely to prohibit that organisation and similar interest organisations from advertising during political election campaigns is a denial of democracy. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.