Opinion Number. 423

Subject

ELECTORAL OFFENCES WHETHER ARTICLES IN NEWSPAPERS AMOUNT TO ELECTORAL ADVERTISEMENTS OR NOTICES : DISCRETION TO INSTITUTE PROSECUTIONS

Key Legislation

COMMONWEALTH ELECTORAL ACT 1902-1909, s. 180

Date
Client
The Minister for Home Affairs

The Minister for Home Affairs has submitted the following minute to me for advice:

The attached schedules are submitted for the Minister's consideration.

2. The newspapers in question inserted advertisements or notices in relation to the referendums taken on the 26th April in contravention of section 180 (a) of the Electoral Act, which provides that it shall be an illegal practice to publish any electoral

advertisement (other than the announcement by advertisement in a newspaper of the holding of a meeting) without at the end thereof the name and address of the person authorising same.

3. The persons responsible for the issue of cards, handbills, leaflets, and posters, have contravened section 180 of the Electoral Act inasmuch as they have not inserted the names and addresses of the persons authorising the same and in several cases there are no imprints as required by law

.

4. A question arises as to whether or not action should be taken against the proprietors of the newspapers, and the other persons concerned.

NEWSPAPERS

As regards newspapers, I am of opinion that articles, even though advocating any particular side, cartoons, and news items are not electoral advertisements or notices within the meaning of section 180 of the Electoral Act. Advertisements and notifications relating to elections, which to the ordinary mind would not fall within articles or news items, would, in my opinion, come within the section. Of the cuttings submitted, a certain number are articles, cartoons or news items and would not fall within the section, a certain number are on the border line and should be given the benefit of the doubt, and a certain number are infringements of the law.

HANDBILLS ETC.

Nearly all the handbills are infringements of section 180, assuming of course that they were published, as to which there is probably no question.

QUESTION OF PROSECUTION

The question whether prosecutions should be instituted is a question for the Department of Home Affairs to decide. Apparently there was nothing to gain by failure to comply with the law, and the failure appears to have arisen because newspaper proprietors and political organisations failed to realise that section 180 applied to the referendums. Under the circumstances, and also because the reasons for the provisions are not as strong in the case of a referendum as they are in the case of an election, I think that no good end would be obtained by instituting prosecutions.

[Vol. 9, p. 66]