This is a sample of The Echidna newsletter sent out each weekday morning till the end of the election. To sign up for FREE, go to theechidna.com.au
You might struggle to regard Carl Paladino as a champion for honesty in politics. A failed Republican candidate for Governor of New York, Paladino once publicly hoped Barack Obama would catch mad cow disease and that his wife Michelle would "return to being a male". But give credit where it's due. The man had a knack for telling the truth on at least one occasion.
A little over a decade ago Paladino stuffed the letter boxes of hundreds of thousands of voters with a glossy pamphlet infused with the aroma of rotting garbage. It may have been a less-than-subtle comment about the stink of corruption he claimed was clinging to his opponents. But has there ever been a finer contribution to truth in political advertising?
The federal election campaign swings into overdrive today following the Easter and Anzac Day holidays, which means most of us will be wrinkling our noses once again as the barrage of expensive letterbox brochures and tawdry social media ads quickly becomes a blizzard.
But here's a most extraordinary truth about Australian politics: we have almost no rules and very few standards that apply to campaign advertising.
While companies face heavy penalties for misleading the public about their products, political candidates have no such restrictions. The Commonwealth Electoral Act is more than 630 pages long and while it warns that deceiving voters "in relation to the casting of a vote" can be a criminal offence it says absolutely nothing about blatant lies and scare campaigns. With the bar for standards set low enough to trouble a world champion limbo dancer, is it any wonder we are assaulted daily by a hailstorm of unsubstantiated claims and allegations?
Truth in political advertising might sound like an oxymoron after recent elections which saw Labor run a patently false "Mediscare" theme and the Liberals indulge in an equally untrue spiel about "death taxes". But with polls showing 90 per cent of Australians would welcome some form of regulation, surely its time has come. South Australia and the ACT already have political advertising laws. Victoria has signaled it will also consider them while Labor and the Greens have indicated their support for a federal crackdown as a way to restore public trust in national affairs .
"At a federal level it is perfectly legal to lie in a political ad and it shouldn't be," says the head of the Australia Institute's Democracy and Accountability program, Bill Browne. "Political advertisements that are deceptive and misleading interfere with the public's ability to make informed decisions. Without action we risk a democratic crisis and election campaigns risk sliding into a free-fall of fake news."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has often voiced concern about the "corrosive" effect social media is having on society, particularly the young. But in a digital world that allows the micro-targeting of voters - many of them young and politically nave - he has shown far less interest in cleaning up the garbage-infested business of political campaigning.
Imagine the powerful statement he and Anthony Albanese could make later this week if they stood together and said they were declaring a moratorium on lies and scare campaigns and would ensure all future political advertising - and promises - could be confidently stored in the nonfiction section of a library.
Come on. A little hope and optimism is OK. We still have 25 days to go...
HAVE YOUR SAY: Would you support new laws demanding truth in political advertising? Or should it be left up to the voter to decide where the truth lies? And what other issues in this campaign concern you? Send us your views: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- Katherine Deves, the Liberal candidate for Warringah whose now-deleted social media posts on transgender athletes created controversy last week, said she had received death threats and had moved her family out of her Sydney home while federal police investigated the matter.
- Defence Minister Peter Dutton used Anzac Day to intensify his warnings about the threat posed by China and Russia, saying "the only way you can preserve peace is to prepare for war". Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles responded by saying the government had not done any preparation. "This is a government which beats its chest. When it comes to actually delivering...it's a government which repeatedly fails."
- The Greens used the long weekend to pledge $550 million per year over the next decade to combat the rising number of homeless Australians. The most recent census reported that women over the age of 55 were the fastest growing group of homeless Australians.
- The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the coalition has promised more than $23 billion - $830 million a day - to electorates around the nation since the week of the federal budget. Labor in comparison has offered $1.9 billion.
THEY SAID IT: "Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." - P. J. O'Rourke.
YOU SAID IT:
"As an American turned Aussie I have trouble explaining to my former compatriots the concept of "calling" an election. It's a bit like calling a fixed horse race. Lots of jostling for position and then suddenly someone says - "oh - here's the finish line". I think a four-year fixed term would be of benefit to all. Better for the pollies to get their heads around the job and less expense for the taxpayers and the candidates. And less annoying for the general public." - Andrea.
"Australia should be extremely concerned about China's determined expansionist policy in our region as they have been encroaching by stealth for many years, intent on gaining control of our enormous resource wealth by any means necessary." - Murray.
"Everyone is talking about a sustainable economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions yet most economies are based on an ever-increasing population. More people means more housing and less habitat and farm land. This is not sustainable. We need to reduce the world population for our planet to survive." - Ross.
"When will someone have the guts to stand up and do the right thing for the country? Where are the visionaries? Most are sitting around the dining room table solving the country's problems and whining about the people they elect to do the job. Hopefully the up and coming generation will be fed up enough to take a stand." - Glenda.
"Unemployment at four percent and heading towards three percent. What garbage! If a person works for one hour per week he/she is said to be employed. I'd like to see someone try to live on that." - John.
"Politics is meant to be about the proper and responsible conduct of the nation's affairs. Terms of at least four or preferably five years would allow for longer-term, preferably visionary, planning. This, however, would absolutely have to be accompanied by fixed terms to eliminate the 'gambling' element so often cynically used by incumbent governments to improve their chances of re-election." - Jan
"I wish that emotive language like "the lunatics are running the asylum" could be kept out of reporting. I know that it's fun to use these phrases and it grabs attention but it also undermines your credibility. I'd like us to talk about these important matters like intelligent, mature and caring human beings." - Claudia.
"Current high immigration is a Ponzi scheme and unsustainable. We have had massive Immigration over the past years and wages have not risen, more people than ever are homeless and unable to afford housing and there is less Government funding/services which are constantly being reduced." - Wendy.
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