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MPs OK Lying in Council Election Campaigns

The Local Government Inspectorate has taken no action against candidates who published false allegations or engaged in unethical behaviour during last year’s Council elections.

In his June 2021 report to Parliament on the conduct of the 2020 Local Government Elections, Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic says unethical campaigning and false allegations don’t breach the Local Government Act.

The Local Government Act 2020 only passed parliament six months before Council election campaigning began.

Mr Stefanovic says the Local Government Act’s strict provisions relating to the conduct of candidates and election campaigns meant the Inspectorate was unable to take any action against candidates, even if it found candidates had clearly done the wrong thing.

Several egregious examples unable to be prosecuted included campaign material being vandalised to suggest the candidate supported terrorists and others alleging fake candidates and misuse of grants.

In all, the Inspectorate received 848 complaints. One was referred for investigation, one was referred to another agency and 139 resulted in warnings.

Most of the formal warnings -129- related to incorrect authorisation of campaign materials and the Inspectorate notes there was a lot of confusion about this, because of the increased use of social media and the failure of the VEC to pro-actively provide any examples of how to authorise campaign materials posted on Facebook, Twitter etc. Examples were finally provided about two weeks before the voting deadline.

There were no fines issued to any candidates.

In 347 of the complaints, the Inspectorate found the complaint was proven, but there was no actual offence against the Local Government Act.

The Local Government Act only passed through Parliament last March – so it’s a scathing indictment of our state politicians that they approved Legislation which less than six months later, failed to either prevent, or censure, dishonesty and unethical conduct by election candidates.

Furthermore, Mr Stefanovic points out that the initial draft of the Bill included provisions for the Inspectorate to monitor campaign donations for Council candidates, but these provisions were excluded from the Bill.

The Report makes 7 recommendations for amendments to the Local Government Act, to bring it up to date with social media and provide stronger scrutiny of candidates and election donations.

It also recommends the Inspectorate needs more funding to improve monitoring of local Councillor conduct.

photo credit: Markus Winkler-unsplash

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