Whatever your view on marriage equality, there are some important things you should know about the government's plebiscite legislation. In short, we the taxpayers will be funding lies.
We've all heard that taxpayer dollars are being used to fund yes and no campaigns. $15M to be exact. Normally in a referendum, the government is expressly prohibited from funding the for and against arguments. So this kind of funding is unusual in itself.
For the plebiscite, the yes and no campaigns will be run by two committees each comprised of 5 pollies and 5 other individuals. They are empowered to do all things reasonably necessary to conduct those campaigns. They have no reporting obligations. The legislation offers no recourse if they misbehave. And they can receive payments from any old person (not just the $15M kitty) without lodging a return disclosing the payments.
The worst part though is that there's absolutely no legal requirement that the campaign ads are accurate or truthful. We are paying for the committees to spread outrageous lies if that's the angle they choose to take.
It's long been a problem with political advertising that there is no accountability and no recourse when ads aren't accurate. Normal misleading or deceptive conduct rules only apply to conduct `in trade or commerce' which doesn't include political advertising. Those rules are enacted primarily under the federal government's Constitutional power to make laws about trade and commerce.
There isn't a Constitutional power under which the federal government can readily make laws about misleading political advertising. However, the plebiscite relates specifically to marriage. And there is a Constitutional power to make laws with respect to marriage. Surely this can be used to stitch up some kind of accountability in relation to this particular plebiscite.
Absent accountability, the marriage equality plebiscite legislation represents a new low. The potential for harm flowing from campaign advertising is high. The subject matter is delicate and more emotive than typical election matter. And yet the government takes the unprecedented step of funding those campaigns, with our money, via committees that have zero legal accountability for their actions or their campaign material. What a joke.