New bill aims to stop lying politicians and misleading political ads

There are few things that are certain in life, or so the adage goes: death, taxes and we can almost certainly add politicians lying.

Maybe it’s unfair to tar them all with the same brush. Or is it?

There are countless examples of politicians lying, cheating, swindling and backflipping to suit their agenda on any given day.

And while it may be an accepted thread in the political fabric, it seems Aussies are over it.

Almost all Australians surveyed in an Australia Talks National Survey believe politicians who lie, pork-barrel or wrongly claim taxpayer money should quit.

Yep, 94 per cent of those surveyed said a politician caught lying to the Australian people should resign.

Nine in 10 (89 per cent) believe “most politicians in Australia will lie if they feel the truth will hurt them politically”.

The overwhelming majority of respondents say other political sins such as taking bribes (98 per cent agree), wrongly claiming taxpayer money (92 per cent) and pork-barrelling (77 per cent) should see offending parties (or pollies) kicked out of politics.

Politicians lying and misleading the public is seen as more offensive than personal indiscretions, with only a handful saying that cheating on a spouse doesn’t necessarily make them unfit for the job.

When YourLifeChoices asked older Australians if they trusted politicians, 45 per cent said ‘mostly never’ and 21 per cent said ‘never’. That’s two-thirds of older voters who distrust the people they’ll vote for.

Just four of the 1169 respondents said they always trust politicians, 22 per cent said ‘sometimes’ and 12 per cent were neutral.

Read: More women, no quotas and no trust in politics: Flash Poll

Overall, most Australians believe their political representatives are dishonest, unaccountable and corrupt and nine in 10 want the government to establish a federal corruption watchdog to keep politicians accountable.

Makes one wonder how many would be left.

Maybe Independent MP Zali Steggall would be one of them.

Ms Steggall has announced a bill to stamp out lies and misinformation in federal election campaigns.

Under her plan, politicians making misleading or deceptive statements in election material would at least be ordered to correct the record and “stop the lies” eroding public trust in Australia’s democracy.

The “Stop the Lies” bill comes in response to the “volume of misleading and deceptive advertising” which Ms Stegall says has plagued recent federal election campaigns.

The bill would stamp out scare campaigns such as Labor’s “Mediscare” push in 2016 and the Coalition’s “Death Tax” social media scare campaign and there are myriad other examples.

It doesn’t help that Australian laws make it “perfectly legal” to lie in a political advertisement, says Ms Steggall.

“Public trust in politicians has been eroded over time; some of that erosion is due to their propensity to lie and the lack of accountability,” she says.

“There is legislation that prevents misleading and deceptive advertisements by businesses and there are enforcement bodies in place to keep an eye on it. But there is no law or body to stop politicians or third parties from lying about a candidate or their opponent during an election campaign.”

Read: Report finds Australian parliament lacks real code of conduct

Ms Steggall’s proposal would ban advertising material which contains misleading or deceptive statements and would prohibit politicians, candidates or campaigners from impersonating another person, including through the use of “deep fake” videos.

It would give teeth to the Australian Electoral Commission, granting it the power to make individuals or parties pull offending material or publicly set the record straight.

An Australia Institute study found that 84 per cent of Australians want bans on misleading political advertising.

“When a customer walks into a shop, they can be confident that Australian consumer law bars that business from engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct,” writes institute deputy director Ebony Bennett.

“Australians should be entitled to expect the same standard of honesty in politics as they receive in trade and commerce – if not a higher standard. But across most of Australia, including in the ACT, it is perfectly legal to lie in a political ad.

“Voters have a right to make informed decisions, and misleading and deceptive political advertising undermines that right. Ultimately, none of us benefit from lying politicians – not even the politicians themselves, who overwhelmingly run for office in order to do good, and who suffer worst of all from the poor reputations that politicians can have.”

South Australia has already passed truth in political advertising laws. Similar laws came into effect in the ACT on 1 July.

Ms Steggall hopes to introduce her bill to Federal Parliament in October. It remains to be seen when a federal corruption watchdog will be established.

Read: Nearly two-thirds of Australians happy with government handling of COVID-19

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a public integrity commission in 2018, but we’re still waiting for legislation to create it.

Like the majority of Australian voters, independent member for Indi Helen Haines wants the government to deliver on its promise.

“It’s almost 1000 days since the Prime Minister promised this nation a federal integrity commission to hold parliamentarians to account,” Ms Haines told ABC.

“If you fall at the first hurdle, which is to establish the body … it demonstrates to me that there is not the strong intent to improve the behaviour here.

“Until such a time as the government does as it promised to do and establish an integrity commission, then I have no doubt the general public will continue to lose trust in those who govern them.”

Labor has committed to introduce truth in political advertising laws if it wins government and says it will create an independent corruption watchdog.

Would you like to see a federal corruption watchdog? What do you think of our politicians? Do you trust them? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.