Truth in Political Advertising? Not yet.

With the federal election looming and campaigning ramping up, some big claims are being made, and it’s fair enough to question the truth of them. Election campaigning can get heated and sometimes overheated. From inflating the benefits that will flow from policies to negative ads, highlighting weaknesses in other candidates’ positions, it’s all been done before, and this year is no different.

While new legislation proposed by Independent Federal MP Zali Steggall could have changed the game and ensured that “truth” was upheld, it’s not likely to get the support it would need to pass before the 2022 election, according to Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Sydney Dr Stewart Jackson.

The Truth in Political Advertising Legislation would penalise people releasing political advertisements that contain false or misleading information.

Dr Jackson said the bill is “highly unlikely to proceed” before the election, which has to happen before May 21, due to the limited number of sitting days left and the likelihood of the Morrison Government prioritising passing its own legislation, ahead of giving attention to private members bills.

As a result Dr Jackson said that even if the bill was passed in both the upper and lower houses, he doubted it would be before the upcoming federal election, and even if it did: “It almost certainly would not come into effect prior to the actual election, if for no other reason than that the Australian Electoral Commission would not have the staff, guidelines or regulations with which to enforce the new Act.”

So for this election, we are stuck with the old rules.

The proposed new law won’t set out to prove the ‘truth’, instead it aims to ensure that Australians are not being fed lies that could influence their federal election votes. As Ms Steggall says on her website, it is “perfectly legal” to lie in a political ad, and this a problem.

Currently, political parties can advertise anything under the High Court’s recognition that the Australian Constitution has an implied freedom of political discussion. But Ms Steggall argues that allowing false or misleading statements to be circulated during election campaigning, can alter the outcomes of elections, divert voter attention away from important issues and discourage qualified persons from pursuing election. Ultimately, this creates a sense of distrust among Australian voters.

If it is passed by this or the next parliament, this new law would apply to any electoral matter defined by the Electoral Act that aims to sway the opinions of electors during the lead up to a federal election. This would include social media posts.

Despite the confusion and ambiguity surrounding the legislation and how it would work, it has been heavily supported by Australian citizens. The Australia Institute recently reported that nine out of ten Australians would back the use of truth in political advertising laws.

On top of this, the legislation has also been supported by voters who back all political parties with 87% of Coalition voters, 88% of Labor, 82% of Greens and 87% of One Nation voters wanting to see more truth in political advertisements.


While similar laws have been passed in South Australia and the ACT, they do not apply to federal elections. The Truth in Political Advertising Legislation would ensure public interest is at the forefront of election campaigns, an important factor in Australia’s democratic society.