Electoral commission questions anti-light rail flyers

Electoral commission questions anti-light rail flyers

Anti-light rail lobby group Can The Tram has been warned by the electoral commission to include required political authorisation statements on their campaign materials.

Electoral Commissioner Phil Green wrote to the group's secretary John Smith on this month after being alerted to a Can The Tram flyer titled "You Have The Right to Know All The Facts About Light Rail".

Can the Tram protest against the light rail project.

Can the Tram protest against the light rail project.Credit:Rohan Thomson

The flyer asks recipients to sign a petition on the group's website and lists six arguments against the $698 million city to Gungahlin light rail line. The reverse side of the flyer says "Light Rail Is Not The Right Choice For Canberra" but there is no authorisation statement.


Mr Green said the flyer may be in breach of authorisation requirements for electoral matter as set out in the territory Electoral Act.

ACT Electoral Commissioner Phil Green.

ACT Electoral Commissioner Phil Green. Credit:Jay Cronan

The law requires electoral matter that is printed, distributed, produced or broadcast by individuals and organisations to include the name of the person authorising the material, a statement saying they authorise it or are its author and an explanation that it is published for or on behalf of a registered political party or candidate for an election, as required.

In the ACT, electoral matter includes any printed or electronic material that is intended or likely to affect voting at an election. Materials include subjects that could be relevant to voters at an election.

"As the light rail project currently being undertaken in the ACT is an issue likely to be before the 2016 ACT Legislative Assembly election, it is likely that much of the information published and distributed by [Can The Tram] in printed publications and on websites and social media sites can be classified as 'electoral matter'," Mr Green said.

"The intent of the authorisation requirements is to ensure that material that could be used by voters to inform their voting intentions is clearly labelled with the name of the person or organisation responsible for publishing the material. This is largely intended to prevent "irresponsibility through anonymity".

Mr Green stressed the provision applies at all times, not only during an ACT Legislative Assembly election. Canberrans will go to the polls on October 15. A guide to authorising electoral material is published by the commission.

"It is ACT Electoral Commission policy to issue a warning when cases such as this are first brought to our attention," Mr Green said, warning anyone who continues to distribute or publish improperly authorised material after receiving a warning may be referred to authorities.

Failure to include an authorisation statement when required is punishable by a fine of up to $1000 under the Electoral Act.

Can The Tram volunteers have distributed the flyer at local shops and community events around Canberra. The group plans to amend the flyer but is yet to respond to Mr Green's letter.

Letters to the editor with the author's name and place of residence do not require authorisation, along with campaign novelties such as letters, cards, T-shirts, buttons, badges, pens and balloons.

Car stickers require authorisation.

Last year the Liberal opposition was required to add the names of Assembly members to thousands of anti-light rail postcards after the commission found they did not meet Electoral Act requirements.

About 200,000 of the postcards were printed, asking members of the public for their views on the tram project and directing them to an online survey published by opposition transport spokesman Alistair Coe.

Mr Green will write to the Like Canberra group about authorisation rules, after posters and stickers from the group appeared around the city. Like Canberra is not yet a registered political party, but replaces the Bullet Train for Canberra party which had its registration cancelled in August 2013.

Tom McIlroy is a political reporter for The Australian Financial Review in the federal press gallery at Parliament House.

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