The Federal Government will wait until the High Court rules on the validity of the same-sex marriage postal survey before it moves to strengthen advertising restrictions.
- The postal survey is not subject to rules which prevents the dissemination of deceptive or misleading info
- A Law Council of Australia representative said the decision to wait to change the ad laws was the right one
- The first advertisement from the No campaign, ahead of the survey went to air this evening
The postal survey is not subject to the stringent rules of the Commonwealth Electoral Act, which prevents information that is deceptive or misleading from being distributed.
The Coalition has flagged rushing through legislation to change that, but it will wait until a High Court challenge against the postal survey has been heard.
Same-sex marriage advocates will test the Government’s ability to conduct a postal survey in court, with a hearing set down for next week.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has told the ABC the legislation to bolster advertising restrictions will not be introduced until after the matter has been heard.
“The most likely timing for a consideration of a bill to provide for additional legal safeguards, to complement existing legal protections and to support the fair and proper conduct of the Australian Marriage Law Survey, will be after the High Court’s hearings on 5 and 6 September,” he said.
“At the appropriate time all relevant stakeholders will be consulted before we put any proposed bill to the Parliament.”
Fiona McLeod from the Law Council of Australia said the decision to wait was the right one.
“There are already strong protections against hateful speech so the postal survey and the decision to move ahead with a marriage equality bill after the survey are no green light for hate speech,” she said.
Ms McLeod said there are existing protections for people in criminal law, as well as state consumer protection authorities and the ACCC for advertising content.
There is also anti-discrimination legislation, but that varies depending on which state or territory it is in.
“It’s patchy in the sense that an individual would have to make a complaint where a harassing or offensive statement might be made to the world at large, rather than targeting an individual,” Ms McLeod said.
“What we would prefer to see is the laws that are available to the electoral commission rolled out and applied to the Bureau of Statistics if it’s going to conduct this survey,”
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will begin sending out survey forms on September 12 and plans to release results on November 15.
First TV ad goes to air
While the public lobbying by both the Yes and No campaigns has been going on for more than a week, the first televised advert went to air on Tuesday evening.
The national advert is from the Coalition for Marriage group, led by the Australian Christian Lobby — one of the main opponents to same-sex marriage.
It features four women opposed to same-sex marriage and focusses on concerns around the impact of same-sex marriage on children.
“School taught my son he could wear a dress next year if he felt like it,” one said.
“Kids in year 7 are being asked to role play being in a same-sex relationship,” another said.
The ads went to air on commercial networks last night and will continue to be broadcast until the vote takes place.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has labelled the content as “offensive and hurtful”.
“This is exactly what was predicted when Malcolm Turnbull decided to waste $122 million on a postal survey. He gave the green light to this rubbish,” he said.
“This is not freedom of speech. This is freedom to hurt.”