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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

ACT passes Truth in Political Advertising Laws

The ACT Legislative Assembly’s decision tonight to legislate for Truth in Political Advertising, backed by all sides of politics, is a stunning breakthrough, according to progressive thinktank, the Australia Institute.

“This legislative advance shows it is possible to regulate political advertising in a way that protects free speech and robust political debate,” said Ben Oquist, Executive Director of the Australia Institute.

“Around the world, democracies are struggling to adjust to a world full of disinformation. How to address this challenge will be a defining issue of our age. As the nation’s capital, the ACT has stepped up to play a leadership role in this regard,” Mr Oquist said in a statement.

“It is now time for a national debate on federal legislation that could mirror what has just been put in place in the ACT. The time is ripe for truth in political advertising laws that are constitutional, uphold free speech, but introduce a measure of fairness and accountability to the political process.

“Disinformation and the distortion of truth is one the big issues of our age. Unless action is taken, we risk our public debate sliding into fake news free-for-all.

“Elections – the very heart of our democratic system – need the most protecting from these trends, and political parties and politicians have a special responsibility to act. It is now time for a national debate on federal legislation that could build on what has just been put in place in the ACT,” he said.

“Congratulations to Chief Minister Andrew Barr and ACT Labor for leading a forward-thinking reformist Government that is embracing and implementing the change. Congratulations to the ACT Greens for bringing these amendments forward. And congratulations to the Canberra Liberals for being a constructive Opposition by backing the reforms and upholding the importance of accountability.”

ACT bans property developer donations to political parties

Meanwhile, ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the ACT Government has reduced the risk of corrupt conduct in the electoral system by banning property developer donations to local political parties and candidates in the ACT. 

In a statement, Mr Ramsay said that the passage of this legislation delivered on another election commitment and that the changes would lower the risk of corrupt conduct or perceived corrupt conduct in local elections. 

“Property developers depend heavily on decisions made by government about land development applications and other processes,” he said.

“There is a strong public interest in reducing the prospect of planning decisions being influenced by political donations.

“Under the changes, it will be an offence for property developers and their close associates to give gifts to political entities, and for political entities to accept gifts from property developers and their close associates.”

These new offences will apply from 1 July 2021.

“By addressing the recognised risk of undue influence from the property development industry, this ban supports our community, giving everyone the opportunity to participate equally in the political system,” Mr Ramsay said.

The Bill also improves transparency around political donations by requiring that gifts totalling over $1,000 to a political party, generally, be disclosed to the Electoral Commission within seven days.

The Bill represents the third tranche of electoral law reforms to be passed in the Legislative Assembly this year and responds to the report of the Select Committee on the 2016 Election and Electoral Act.

“The Government will continue to work with the ACT Electoral Commission to ensure our elections are fair, inclusive and transparent,” Mr Ramsay said.

The passage of this legislation was a 2016 parliamentary agreement item.

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