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Bill: Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 13 Sep 2017

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (21:17): The Electoral and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 reflects the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, of which I am a member. We took a great deal of advice on this matter, and this is the bill that has now come before us. I think it's worth making a few comments about the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. I certainly feel fortunate to be on the committee. The chair, Senator Reynolds, as well as the deputy chair, Mr Andrew Giles, and the other members all work together in a very cooperative way. Obviously, there are disagreements, but I think it is worth reflecting on the fact that in many ways this bill goes to the heart of the increasing cynicism around electoral processes, politicians and politics in general. Because there is that deep cynicism, I think it is incredibly important to have a clear set of rules to help restore people's confidence in how the political process works. Let's remember that so much of how we communicate is changing so rapidly.

It was very clear from much of the evidence to the inquiry that we need to ensure that the communication channels aren't being stifled by the rules—that the rules are there to manage the communication channel, not to stifle the message that is being given out. So, it's getting that balance right that is critical. This is only part of the work that needs to be done, but there has been some important work already undertaken here.

The other thing that came through, too, is that for these rules to work they essentially need to be easy to implement. If things get too complex when it comes to managing communications, it's obviously going to fail before we get going. So, yes, there are a range of technologies that you would expect to be used more and more extensively when it comes to election time, and surely that's to be welcomed. The more people know about what's happening in elections and hear the exchange of viewpoints, the better. Hopefully, what we're ensuring is that that information is as accurate as possible.

It certainly wasn't just in the 2016 election that we had problems with truth in advertising, and it's not just with the rise in the new technology that there are problems with truth in advertising. This issue, particularly with some people issuing highly inaccurate information, often right on the eve of the election when there's very little opportunity to answer it, has been a common practice for a long time. That's why I did spend some time in my earlier remarks referring to the cynicism that is there in the political process. But now we have this legislation before us. I congratulate my colleagues on JSCEM for the work that they put into it. This is a necessary bill and it will go some way, a small way, to helping our situation.

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