Radio National transcript

SUBJECT/S: Postal vote protection legislation; IPSOS







SUBJECT/S: Postal vote protection legislation; IPSOS


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus joins us from the Parliament House studio. Mark Dreyfus, welcome.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks for having me Patricia.


KARVELAS: So the usual laws covering elections don’t apply to the Bureau of Statistics, hence the need for special safeguards. Have you reached an outcome with the government on the protections bill?


DREYFUS: Well not quite, we have been negotiating through the weekend, and in particular Labor has asked the government to include a provision that would ban vilification – hate speech – and it looks at this stage like the government is prepared to agree to that. We haven’t yet hit on the final form of words but those negotiations are going to continue today. Obviously, we need to get this legislation through the Parliament as quick as possible, certainly by the end of this sitting week.


KARVELAS: Can you give me some detail on what you mean – what would be counted as something that you would not consider lawful advertising during this campaign?


DREYFUS: I think most people will know vilification when they see it. And we’ve already got anti-vilification provisions in every state and territory. It’s something that is a vilification of a person or group, because of a particular attribute. And that’s what we’ve looked for. It looks like the government’s prepared to agree to that. But as I say Patricia we haven’t yet hit on the final form of words.


KARVELAS: OK so far we’ve seen some advertisements already. Would any of them fulfil that criteria of vilification?


DREYFUS: Because we haven’t reached agreement on the final form of this provision I can’t really say. I think we need to keep in mind that the legislation deals with a few other things that are important as well. It’s going to have a provision for authorisation. I think most people would agree we want to see people put a name to statements that they make and advertisements that they put out, and what’s broadcast. So there’s going to be authorisation provisions just like we see at election time. It’s – there’s some other provisions, anti-bribery, anti-fraud provisions again which may be of some assistance.


KARVELAS: And what would that count, I mean is that people kind of collecting all of the postal votes and trying to have them all their way from the nursing home or something like that?


DREYFUS: Sure, and although there are provisions already that deal with misuse of postal services, that is important I think. But for this survey, which is unique in Australian political history – we of course think it is an unnecessary political survey – but if it’s going to take place, and it is now going to take place, we need to make sure that it is conducted as respectfully, as fairly, as gracefully as that’s possible.


KARVELAS: The main concern is, as you say, distribution of deceptive and misleading material. Have you agreed to criminal penalties for that kind of material?


DREYFUS: That’s not the proposal at this stage, that it be criminal penalties. The anti-vilification provision elsewhere, in other anti-discrimination legislation is dealt with as a civil penalty matter. Certainly we think that’s where it should be pitched. But as I say Patricia it’s not just about the content of advertising. There’s a whole range of provisions in this safeguards bill. To make sure that this unnecessary postal survey is conducted as properly as it can be to make sure that the debate is a respectful, fair and kind one. I’d be calling on everyone participating in this debate to have a think before they speak. Perhaps that’s always a good rule, but we can’t legislate for everything. What we can do is call on everybody participating in this debate to act with kindness and grace.


KARVELAS: And how can you actually guarantee truth in advertising? If someone is disseminating material that vilifies or demeans people – and you talked about that language before – posters, pamphlets – they’re unlikely to put their name to it. Doesn’t that render the official authorisation somewhat ineffective? I mean you can always just put anything in someone’s mailbox. It’s very hard to police that isn’t it?


DREYFUS: Sure. As I say, this is legislation that I hope sets a standard. It’s the Parliament as a whole, sending a message that this is the way we in this Parliament hope that this survey debate is going to be conducted. We can’t legislate for everything. Certainly the misleading conduct point is a difficult one, even in the Electoral Act the misleading conduct prohibition is really about misleading someone on the precise manner of casting their vote and has never been thought to extend to the whole of electoral or political persuasion material. And when you start to think about it Patricia you can see how difficult it would be if you were trying to set up some kind of regime of checking every single statement made in a debate. There are standards that already apply – there are standards, certainly, that apply to broadcasters and they will be in place whether or not this additional safeguards regime comes in. And broadcasters regard themselves as bound by that.


KARVELAS: The Bureau of Statistics will have access to the electoral roll, but there are about 113,000 silent electors on the roll in Australia, their addresses are not on the electoral roll, and the Electoral Commission can’t by law provide information about silent electors to agencies such as the ABS. Has their position been resolved by your talks with Mathias Cormann?


DREYFUS: We’ve raised this, as I understand it the government is looking at how it is that those more than 100,000 silent electors on the electoral roll are to cast their vote. It will be obviously immensely disappointing – one of the many problems of this survey, if that isn’t achieved. But that’s the objective. The government has worked well with us, I would say Patricia on all of this. Now that the survey is happening, obviously the government wants the survey to be a success, one which reaches many people. One in which every single person on the roll can participate and I wish the survey weren’t happening. But it needs to be as well conducted as it can be.


KARVELAS: We talked about the standards for broadcasters. Will electronic media be required to broadcast official yes and no campaign spots like they do in an election campaign?


DREYFUS: What’s currently proposed is a reasonable opportunity regime which is the same as for the Broadcasting Services Act provisions that apply at election time. And again the final detail of that has not yet been resolved but that is the proposal.


KARVELAS: And if the result is close, which of course it could be. I mean this is very unknown, we’ve never had a situation like this where a voluntary vote has been operating like this. Will there be a clear process for resolving any ambiguities or even really what could potentially be a disputed outcome?


DREYFUS: I don’t know how much room there is going to be for ambiguity. It’s yes or no, Patricia.


KARVELAS: I don’t know, someone could write yes with different spelling, I don’t know. You’ve seen what they do on ballot forms.


DREYFUS: We’ve got a system even for federal elections and this is of course nothing to do with an election, which looks at the intent of the voter. I don’t think that people’s forms, survey forms are going to be rejected because there is some small difference in the way they filled it out. If it’s clear that they want to vote no, or they want to vote yes, that’s what will be given effect to. It would be extraordinarily unlikely if the result were to be a close one. But you’re right, it’s always possible and there will be systems in place I’m sure for resolving disputes about what the intent of the particular person filling out the survey form was.


KARVELAS: And these laws will be specific just to this postal survey? Is it a sunset clause, does it all end after the survey?


DREYFUS: These are specific laws that are only in effect for this survey. They are limited time only and limited purpose only.


KARVELAS: And how quickly will this be presented to Parliament? You’re clearly on the cusp of a deal, you’re talking quite positively about the government and the negotiations.


DREYFUS: We’re hoping to have the bill in shape and resolved, agreed between Labor and the government by the end of today, which would lead to it being introduced in the Parliament and passed by both Houses of Parliament by the end of Thursday. That’s the timetable.


KARVELAS: Just a final question on another topic. The IPSOS Poll this morning shows Bill Shorten’s approval rating is down again. How do you win an election with a leader so far behind the Prime Minister?


DREYFUS: I think actually Patricia the only poll people are looking at is the 19th poll that Malcolm Turnbull has led the Liberal Party to a loss in. Bill Shorten has led our party with tremendous distinction. He’s the reason we are the unified team that we are today and he’s the reason why we have got the serious policies out as we have.


KARVELAS: Sure but I asked a specific question about Bill Shorten and his approval rating, and that isn’t doing very well. And that’s a numerical fact.


DREYFUS: And the trend of the two-party preferred is the safe guide, the only safe guide to election results. You know, Patricia, as do most of your listeners that very many elections have been won by parties led by Opposition Leaders who were less popular. Being Opposition Leader is the most difficult job in politics. And Bill is doing a very good job in leading our team in a united way and getting policies out. I’m looking at the trend in the two-party preferred and I’m sure that’s what the Liberal government is looking at as well. As I say, the 19th poll in a row that the Liberals are behind in.


KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus thank you very much for your time.


DREYFUS: Thank you Patricia.