It is a sign of how Covid has emboldened the authoritarian instincts of the political class that the Victorian Electoral Commission thought it could silence Andrew Bogut for expressing a political opinion.
The Australian basketball legend revealed on Twitter this week that the VEC had written to him in December to advise that it believed he had broken electoral laws by posting a video on his personal Twitter account.
The video, made by someone else, called on Victorians to “vote out” state crossbench MPs if they passed government legislation that would give the Premier dictatorial “pandemic management” powers.
According to the VEC, the video likely met the definition of electoral advertising, and could be in breach of electoral laws because it did not contain the address or name of the person who authorised the material.
Legally, what the VEC is doing should be regarded as nonsensical. Bogut is not standing for parliament, nor is he representing any political organisation.
It amounts to extraordinary overreach in application of the Victorian Electoral Act, which defines “electoral advertising, handbill, pamphlet or notice” as those materials containing “electoral matter”.
A private social media post hardly meets the common-sense definition of “electoral advertising, handbill, pamphlet or notice”. Moreover, to define a social media post containing an opinion from a politically unaligned individual as “electoral matter” would give the electoral commission nearly limitless scope to intimidate people into silence.
The VEC’s actions are as dangerous as they are nonsensical. It is responsible for running state elections and counting the votes.
Any hint it is behaving in a politically biased manner will undermine confidence in our elections and undermine democracy in the state.
Bogut believes he has been targeted in part because of his significant online following. This is a reasonable assumption, particularly given others who shared the same video have apparently not been contacted by the VEC.
Similar to the federal government’s politicised treatment and deportation of Novak Djokovic, the point seems to be that Bogut is a man with a high profile who is prepared to think for himself.
Where your typical modern sportsmen and women tend to be empty vessels for corporate sponsors and politically correct platitudes, Bogut is a straight shooter. His rejection of woke politics and being over-governed has seen him amass a following that rivals what he had as a number 1 draft pick in the elite National Basketball League. This is what makes him a target.
High-profile individuals who dissent from the core priorities of the political class – for instance, vaccine mandates and Covid restrictions – are singled out for the government’s bully tactics specifically because they are high-profile.
When the Federal Court heard an appeal by Djokovic against the decision to deport him, it was told Immigration Minister Alex Hawke didn’t actually believe the sportsman posed a health risk to Australians. As the government lawyers told the court, the minister believed that Djokovic should be deported because of how Australians might be “encouraged to take up or maintain resistance to vaccination or to Covid-19 restrictions”.
It’s not clear the government ever asked Djokovic his personal views on these issues and they likely didn’t care. What mattered was that the government speculated Djokovic could inspire “resistance” so he was sent packing.
Bogut’s loud criticisms of how Australian governments have and are reacting to Covid is giving voice to frustrations felt by millions of Australians who are too often locked out of public debate.
A functionary in the state’s electoral commission, emboldened by almost two years of Covid-hysteria, thought this was out of bounds.
The point of deporting Djokovic or censoring Bogut appears to be to send a message to the masses that independent thought is not allowed.
It is as fundamental an infringement on freedom of speech and freedom of conscience as a government can carry out against its own citizenry.