Political Ad Reporting Rules Relaxed In Hairbrained Bid To Cut MP Workload

Political Ad Reporting Rules Relaxed In Hairbrained Bid To Cut MP Workload

It has been confirmed that rules surrounding the reporting of political ad spend have been reduced to lessen MP workload.

The government finance department has confirmed that there is now less transparency surrounding what MPs spend on online advertising and junk mail. This comes after a push to reduce public servants’ administrative workload.

A finance department spokesperson told The Guardian that politicians had to certify that their expenses were “for the dominant purpose of conducting their parliamentary business” but didn’t explain why the new system would not provide as much information as the previous one.

Under the changes, voters will no longer be able to access an itemised breakdown of ad spend but rather a figure under the categories “Publications – Printed and electronic” and “Printing and Communications”. The latest expense reports show that some politicians are spending over $100,000 in these categories.

Independent MP Dai Le for the Western Sydney electorate of Fowler topped the list of biggest spenders. Her reported $133,000 spent on printing and communications accounted for more than half the total $215,168 her office spent in that quarter.

A spokesperson for Le told The Guardian that her multicultural western Sydney electorate relied on “printed and written material still, and some of these are translated, which incurs additional design and translation costs.”

There was much debate in 2022 over online ad spending for political parties and candidates during the Federal Election. At the time, a report by the Australian Institute revealed that Clive Palmer’s ad spend on social media was the highest of any candidate at a whopping $462,500, and his United Australia Party raked up a Google Ads bill of over $11 million.

To put these numbers into perspective, the report revealed that the Australian Labor Party, which had the highest Meta spend, spent $2.6 million over the same period.

After the Voice Referendum, there has been a huge push to tighten laws surrounding political advertising, so the news of rules being relaxed may come as a huge shock to many voters. In a poll after the referendum, 72 per cent of voters agreed with the statement, “I am concerned about lies and misinformation that circulated on social media during the referendum campaign.” Only 15 per cent said they were not concerned.

“While I have no doubt that all the votes cast in the referendum were valid, I also have no doubt that many of the arguments and claims that influenced those votes were not,” said Richard Denniss, director at The Australia Institute. “In Australia, it is perfectly legal to lie in a political ad – and it shouldn’t be”.

In many countries, online political advertising consists of persuasion campaigns that encourage residents to vote. However, given Australia’s mandatory voting and the power of targeted ads on social media, these kinds of ads can be used to swing undecided voters in highly contested seats and can have massive impacts on the outcome of an election.

With the Cook electorate heading to a by-election in the coming weeks, there is expected to be a great deal of discourse surrounding the Liberal seat currently held by former Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Several ads for the Liberal candidate, Simon Kennedy, are already starting to pop up on social media despite no Labor candidate being confirmed. Labor recently reported that it was “highly unlikely” to contest the seat in the Liberal stronghold.

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