Labor bill to end public funding for voice campaigns backed by review but Coalition disagrees

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A parliamentary review backed the Albanian government’s plan to change the laws on referendums, but there was strong dissent from Coalition MPs who say they cannot “in good conscience” support changes that would remove the government’s obligation to fund yes and no campaigns. a native voice for parliament.

The electoral affairs committee recommended on Monday that Labour’s referendum bill be passed, if amendments were made to strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation and enrollment, and as long as there was “clear, factual and impartial information” about the vote on available to all voters. .

But the way in which information about the voice is made available to members of the Coalition, who do not support the bill and are asking the government to fund the yes and no campaigns equally, is still a matter of great controversy.

It is the government’s choice to launch a civic education campaign through the Australian Electoral Commission under referendum processes, but not to fund the campaigns.

He also dismissed the process of sending out pamphlets outlining the yes and no cases as an outdated “landfill exercise” in the internet age, before backtracking on that position last week.

Some submissions to the committee said keeping the yes and no pamphlets would provide an official source of information and “set the tone” of the debate.

But constitutional experts warned that the pamphlets often contained “emotional, incorrect or misleading information that did not help voters make decisions”. Others emphasized the need to provide some form of authoritative information.

The committee was generally in favor of the government’s decision not to fund the yes or no campaigns.

But a dissenting report from five Coalition members said they could not “in good conscience” support the bill. They consider it vital that the government provides equal funding to the ‘yes and no’ campaigns for the sake of an informed debate.

“Any kind of cheating or rigging the system and effectively trying to take advantage of one side of a debate over the other will only increase the suspicion among the people of this country and will only contribute to defeat on whatever offer is put before them,” said the Liberal. MP James Stevens told parliament on Monday.

“We ask the government to seriously reconsider the message it will send and the damage it would do to efforts to change the constitution by saying that we do not want to argue with appropriate resources for and against the that changed.”

Independent MP Kate Chaney said she supported the “slightly vague” proposal that unbiased information should be provided to voters, but was concerned about “racial misinformation” during the campaign.

“It is imperative that we do a better job of ensuring truth in political advertising,” Chaney said. “This is wider than the proposed voice referendum but concerns about racially inaccurate information in this context are real, and they place more emphasis on truth in advertising because of the damage that could be done.”

Chaney suggested that an independent panel be set up to disseminate fact-checking information during the referendum campaign.

She said there should be transparency in campaign financing and recommended immediate disclosure of any donation over $1,000.

“In the case of such an important referendum for the future of the country, truth and transparency are vital, and I recommend that the government consider improvements to that effect in the implementation of the legislation,” she told parliament.

Other submissions suggested limits on spending to avoid a wealthy donor “undermining the level playing field”, and some supported a total ban on foreign donations.

Speaking ahead of the release of the report, Greens Senator Larissa Waters said she was in favor of lowering the voting age for voting, and supported real-time disclosure of all donations over $1,000.

“We are also looking for measures that will increase participation, especially for First Nations voters, such as on-the-day registration, expanding the remote mobile voting program, and telephone voting like that offered at the 2022 federal election for people in Covid isolation . ,” Waters said.

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