Dear Ms Inman Grant
Ensuring the Voice to Parliament Referendum debate is free and fair
The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) was founded in 1943 as a non-profit educational research organisation with the objective of furthering the individual, social, political, and economic freedom of the Australian people, and maintaining and enhancing the Australian way of life.
A central strand of the IPA’s research for 80 years has been Australia’s democratic traditions, particularly in relation to freedom of speech, egalitarianism, and respect for the diverse views of the community.
Foundational to the Australian way of life is that every Australian should have an equal say over the big issues facing our nation’s future, and for debate around those issues to be conducted in a free and fair manner.
It is in this context that I am writing to you. On 28 March 2023 you spoke at a press conference at Parliament House regarding the forthcoming referendum on whether to entrench an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice in the Australian Constitution. You are quoted as saying social media companies are to be “on notice” during the referendum debate. In particular, you asserted social media companies must monitor their platforms for ‘key words that might be used to silence voices’, for ‘mis- and disinformation’, and commented on their obligations to minimise ‘online hate’:
We need to make sure that we’re minimising online hate. And again, my entreaty to everyone in Australia is, when you see online hate happening, report it to the platform and report it to eSafety. We have the powers to take it down. We’re working with law enforcement in across Australia.
The IPA is also interested in the role social media companies need to play in the forthcoming referendum debate to ensure it is free and fair. Please see attached our letter to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese calling for the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to be broadened to include social media platforms as broadcasters, and to prevent them from censoring political debate during the referendum.