In this article, Legal Rights Program Director John Storey contextualises and disseminates the IPA’s research on misinformation laws and how it affects the political freedom of mainstream Australians.
After a big election defeat the losing party is usually introspective, admitting they need to review their policies because they failed to connect with voters.
After the republic referendum and the same sex marriage plebiscite, the losing sides graciously accepted the defeat, respected the fact that the people had spoken, and moved on.
It seems there will be no such introspection from the losing side of the Voice referendum. The political class and inner-city elites are looking to lay the blame elsewhere and get on with the business of retribution.
According to Yes23 campaign director Dean Parkin, the referendum result was due to “the single largest misinformation campaign that this country has ever seen”.
Prominent spokesperson for the Yes case Thomas Mayo blamed the“ disgusting No campaign, a campaign that has been dishonest, that has lied to the Australian people”.
Other Yes campaigners expressed similar sentiments – it was all the fault of the media and a dishonest campaign and the spread of lies on social media. Voice architect Megan Davis even called it “Trumpian” misinformation.
Blaming misinformation for the referendum result would normally be apolitically risky move. Implicit in the argument is that the 61 per cent of Australians who voted No are gullible and ignorant, falling for said misinformation.
This would include, by the way, the 1.5 million Labor voters who voted No against the wishes of a Labor Prime Minister. Some commentators have even linked higher levels of university education with voting Yes. The No voters were just too stupid it seems.
But reconnecting with voters doesn’t seem to be the goal of those pushing the “misinformation” narrative. The referendum result is likely to be used by the federal government to push on with its online censorship laws via the proposed Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill. Because the verdict that mainstream Australians delivered on the Voice proposal clearly defied the wishes of the political class, that class is now set to debate laws to impose the most draconian peacetime censorship Australia has ever experienced.
The government’s legislation follows teal MP Zali Steggell’s private members’ bill introduced last year with the deceptive title Stop The Lies. Following the vote Ms Steggall asserted, without evidence, that “it’s clear that the information people had access to through the course of the debate was often heavy with misleading and deceptive facts”.
It seems lost on Ms Steggall that something which is a “fact” cannot be “misleading”. Yet the Prime Minister has already hinted that he is onboard with her agenda, claiming there was “totally abhorrent” misinformation during the Voice referendum campaign and that Labor would be undertaking appropriate processes to deal with it going forward.
These censorship laws are arguably every bit as threatening to Australia’s political system as the Voice would have been.
The problem with laws aimed at combating “misinformation” is that, ultimately, someone must be in charge of deciding what is true or false. The new online censorship laws would empower an unelected government agency – the Australian Communications and Media Authority – to perform this task.
Nobody in a democracy should have the power to determine what is or isn’t true or to censor those with different opinions.
This is especially the case when those doing the censoring appear to be so out of touch with the views of the rest of the country.
The federal government’s definition of misinformation in its Bill is deliberately vague, ensuring it could be used as a weapon to censor criticism of government policy.
By rejecting the divisive race-based Voice to Parliament, mainstream Australians have upset the political class like never before.
In retaliation the elite will now attempt to silence the voices of dissent and ensure this can never happen again.
This article draws from forthcoming and unpublished IPA Research on Misinformation.