As of 12 midnight last night, the election period commenced. This means that, from midnight last night until 6:00pm on 22 October 2016, councils must observe the relevant restrictions imposed by the Local Government Act 1989 (Act). In particular, councils must:
- refrain from printing, publishing or distributing, or authorising the printing, publication or distribution, of any advertisement, handbill, pamphlet or notice unless it has been certified by the CEO (see s 55D of the Act) – noting that the CEO cannot authorise anything containing electoral matter
- refrain from making a major policy decision (see s 93A of the Act)
- otherwise comply with their Election Period Policies to avoid, where possible, ‘inappropriate decisions’ being made.
It is imperative that councils observe these restrictions throughout the election period. One recurring theme for a number of councils has been their management of social media pages throughout the election period, in the context of s 55D of the Act. This is because information posted on a council’s social media page by a third party will generally be taken to have been ‘published’ by the council. Information published by third parties might not, therefore, be certified. Worse, that information may contain electoral matter. We have seen a number of different approaches to addressing this issue, including:
- ‘around the clock’ monitoring of all social media pages
- altering security and privacy settings so no posts can be seen on social media pages until they have been approved by a member of council staff and certified by the CEO
- completely disabling the ability of third parties to post information or comments on any social media pages.
The correct approach for your council will largely depend on the way it uses social media. The most reliable option is, of course, to completely disable any third party posts or comments until after the end of the election period.