ACT independent senator David Pocock has welcomed an Albanese government push to legislate truth in political advertising, saying current electoral laws were weak, undermined a healthy democracy and his experience while getting elected should never happen again.
Senator Pocock was a particular focus of a deliberately misleading campaign by the Canberra Liberals-linked group Advance Australia against climate-friendly independents. The fake "Greens Superman" attack ads were initially cleared by the Australian Electoral Commission, but late in the campaign they were ordered to be removed after they were ruled misleading and deceptive.
While the controversial ads helped with voter recognition, Senator Pocock said considerable damage had been done.
"I experienced first-hand the consequences of an absence of federal truth in political advertising laws during the last election with Advance Australia's campaign, promoted by the Liberal Party, to mislead voters by portraying me as a Greens candidate," he said.
"While the Australian Election Commission eventually found in my favour, it took far too long and came after more than 50,000 Canberrans had cast their vote.
"We need strong, enforceable and actively monitored truth in political advertising laws legislated ahead of any return to the polls."
Special Minister of State Don Farrell revealed in a Guardian Australia interview the Albanese government will push through the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) to legislate electoral spending caps and truth in political advertising.
The JSCEM reviews and reports back on all federal elections and Senator Farrell has indicated the expected inquiry into the 2022 election will hear Labor's case to make changes to election campaigns.
The ALP also wants to tackle malapportionment where there is a cloud over the equitable representation of states and territories in the House of Representatives and Senate due to the distribution of voters.
Labor and the Greens supported truth in political advertising and electoral spending caps in the 2019 election inquiry, although the 2020 JSCEM report ultimately said spending caps were a "handbrake on freedom of political expression" and did not back their introduction.
The committee report from 2020 also ruled the best arbiter of truth in election campaigns was "an engaged electorate, rather than another well-funded quango".
Senator Pocock, who was elected for a three-year term after an historic victory over the Liberal incumbent Zed Seselja, committed during the campaign for political donation reform, including lowering the disclosure threshold, working towards real-time disclosures and capping spending.
"It is absolutely critical we see wide-ranging reform ahead of the next federal election," he said.
"But it's equally critical that we get any reforms right - we should be looking closely at best practice around the world and ensuring that the changes we make strengthen our democracy.
"The weakness of current electoral laws undermines the healthy functioning of our democracy.
"Electoral contests should be won or lost based on who has the best ideas and the best track record standing up for their community, not who can spend the most or tell the biggest lies."
Senator Pocock said he would contribute to the Joint Standing Committee and he was backed by the new independent member for Goldstein, Zoe Daniel, who tweeted: "Should lying in political ads to get elected on false pretenses be legal? The answer seems obvious. Truth in political advertising must be legislated. And let's open the can of worms on truth in media while we're at it. These things go fundamentally to public trust."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.