Election signs falsely linking independents to Greens may breach voter deception laws, AEC says

The electoral commissioner is considering whether unauthorised political signs claiming independent candidates are affiliated with the Greens may breach laws that ban misleading voters.

Tom Rogers said the Australian Electoral Commission is “actively” investigating the controversial signs, including slapping entities which may know more with “formal notices” to provide information about the “disappointing” unauthorised material.

On Friday independents in Warringah, Mackellar, Hughes and Hume reported their own posters had been ripped down and replaced with near-identical copies bearing Greens branding in what they said was a “coordinated” attack.

The AEC has already concluded the signs breach electoral laws which require political material to be authorised, which carry penalties of up to $26,640 for individuals or $132,200 for corporations.

It has referred the matter to the electoral integrity assurance taskforce for investigation and is encouraging anyone with information to come forward.

Asked if the signs could breach other laws, Rogers told Guardian Australia the AEC is “looking at other offences” including section 329 of the Electoral Act, which bans material that “is likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”.

The provision refers to misleading voters about the process of voting, but does not guarantee truth in political advertising generally. It may apply if the signs are deemed to indicate the independents are the endorsed candidates of the Greens, and therefore indicate a vote for the named candidate is a vote for the Greens.

Fines for breaching this section are lower – up to $22,200 for an individual and up to $111,000 for corporation – but it can be punishable by up to three years in prison.

“That is a really complex area of law – but we are examining that as well,” Rogers said.

“One of the few things that parties and candidates have to do is follow relatively simple authorisation rules … Citizens must know where information comes from. The fact it is unauthorised is concerning.”


Rogers said entities the AEC thinks might have information have been issued with “a formal notice”, an apparent reference to the commissioner’s information-gathering powers for investigating unauthorised material.

Asked if penalties need to increase to deter unauthorised material, Rogers replied it was “pretty fundamental to a high integrity election to know who is saying what”.

“Whatever can be done to deter people from behaving poorly I would endorse.”

Rogers noted the AEC had been inundated with complaints through social media about “damaged corflutes, [and] corflutes that have been pulled down”.

“Of course we decry that … But it’s not a power we have under the Electoral Act,” he said, explaining they were matters for the police.

Rogers said the AEC also has no responsibility for enforcing truth in political advertising, and is not seeking that power, but that was not to say another entity could not be entrusted with such a function.

Advance, a conservative political action group that has campaigned against Steggall and other climate-focused independents, has denied it was behind the fake corflutes.

“This is absolutely not Advance,” a spokesperson said. “All material produced by Advance is clearly authorised and strictly complies with AEC rules.”

The spokesperson said Advance had not received a notice from the AEC.

The Australian Electoral Commission has received 2m applications for postal votes, up from 1.5m in 2019.

Rogers said this means “more votes in envelopes” making it “more likely there will be unresolved contests on election night”, as ballots can arrive up to two weeks after election day.

Prepoll votes are also up, with 305,000 people voting on Monday, the first day of prepolling, up from 120,000 in 2019 – although the prepoll period is shorter in this election cycle.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Listen, engage, show you care: how Greens and independents took local politics all the way to Canberra
Voters disenchanted with the cynical politics of the main parties were ripe for conversion – they just needed someone to knock on their door and listen

Tory Shepherd

28, May, 2022 @8:00 PM

Article image
Teal independents: who are they and how did they upend Australia’s election?
What does historic move of voters away from the two major parties mean for the future of Australian politics?

Calla Wahlquist

23, May, 2022 @8:59 AM

Article image
Victorian Greens welcome ‘teal’ independents running in state election after historic federal result
Samantha Ratnam says prospect of having more MPs advocating for strong action on climate change is ‘exciting’

Benita Kolovos

24, May, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
Independent Zoe Daniel wins court battle over election campaign signs
Liberal MP for Goldstein Tim Wilson had complained the signs were put up prematurely ahead of a ban by the local council

Paul Karp

22, Mar, 2022 @11:53 PM

Article image
Senate may have a progressive majority as Greens and David Pocock make election gains
If Saturday’s count points to the final result, Anthony Albanese’s government will not face a hostile upper house

Ben Raue

21, May, 2022 @4:19 PM

Article image
Independents accuse Morrison of using trans sport ban as a ‘dog-whistle to the ultraconservatives’
Zali Steggall says ‘Liberal moderates should make clear they would oppose any legislation’ while Christian lobby group wants Coalition to back PM’s ‘strong stand’

Daniel Hurst and Paul Karp

12, Apr, 2022 @9:02 AM

Article image
Factcheck: is it fair to label candidates challenging Liberal moderates ‘fake independents’?
Many of the candidates vying for Liberal heartland seats share policy ideas and funding sources. But does that mean they aren’t truly independent?

Paul Karp

01, May, 2022 @12:01 AM

Article image
Federal Icac: independents want safeguards to ensure body cannot be politicised
Crossbenchers push Labor to ensure parliament has a say on commissioner and funding

Sarah Martin and Paul Karp

30, Aug, 2022 @5:30 PM

Article image
Teal independents punish Liberal moderates for inaction on climate crisis and integrity commission
Climate 200 convenor says ‘people who called themselves moderates didn’t deliver’ while Labor argues election shows ‘teals are eating the Liberal party alive’

Daniel Hurst and Anne Davies

21, May, 2022 @3:26 PM

Article image
Independents, diversity and climate: highlights of new MPs’ first speeches to Australian parliament
As Australia’s most diverse federal parliament opened, new members introduced themselves and set out priorities

Paul Karp

28, Jul, 2022 @5:30 PM