Today the Government introduced the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Amendment Bill 2022, to advance the Prime Minister’s commitment to hold a referendum to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Australian Constitution.
The Referendum Act is out of step with today’s electoral laws and does not reflect modern delivery and communications methods.
The legislation will make amendments to replicate current electoral machinery provisions into the referendum context. This will ensure the voting process and experience is similar to that of a federal election.
The legislation will also ensure that the integrity and transparency measures that currently apply to federal elections will also apply to referendums.
Enhanced Integrity (Banning Foreign Donations)
Consistent with the rules that apply to federal elections, the legislation will establish a financial disclosure framework for referendums to support transparency and accountability with respect to funding and expenditure.
Campaign donations and expenditure above the disclosure threshold will have to be reported to the Australian Electoral Commission.
In order to restrict foreign influence in referenda, the legislation will apply the same bans on foreign donations and foreign campaigners as apply during federal elections – a hard fought Labor reform from Opposition.
Public Education (Countering Misinformation)
Given Australia’s last referendum was in 1999, the Government is committed to providing public information and education about referendum processes and constitutional change.
To support community education, the Government proposes to temporarily lift a funding restriction in the Act, to enable funding of educational initiatives to counter misinformation.
The Government believes campaigns in the Voice Referendum should be organised and funded by the Australian community, and does not intend to fund a yes and no campaign for the forthcoming Voice referendum.
The current Referendum Machinery law requires a pamphlet to be posted to every household in Australia, outlining ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ arguments.
The next referendum will be the first in the digital age. There is no longer any need for taxpayers to pay for a pamphlet to be sent to every household. Modern technology allows parliamentarians to express their views to voters directly and regularly through a wide variety of sources, such as television, email and social media, that did not exist when the pamphlet was introduced in the early 20th century.
The Bill will be referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which will report in early 2023.
The Government will consider any recommendations of the Committee prior to the passage of a final bill.
The Bill is available on the Parliament of Australia website.
How will the 2022 Voice Referendum Be Different to the Republic Referendum in 1999?
The Government’s Bill and proposal for the conduct of the Voice Referendum will:
- Require disclosure of campaign donations and expenditure.
- Restrict foreign influence.
- Not require the production and distribution of a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ printed pamphlet to each elector household.
- Support MPs and campaigns to communicate with electors via modern communication methods with appropriate authorisations.
- Not fund a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaign.
- Support an education campaign to assist electors understand the purpose and process of the referendum and mitigate misinformation.