Proposed new laws cracking down on misinformation should not cover government messages because of the impact on disaster alerts, an inquiry has been told.
The Albanese government is sifting through thousands of comments and submissions on draft laws to force social media platforms to deal with “false, misleading and deceptive” content.
Independent senator David Pocock asked during a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Tuesday why the draft bill exempted government departments and agencies.
Senator Pocock queried why government information should not be held to the same standard as that from other sources.
It would not “pass the pub test” for the exemption to stand when the laws were eventually introduced, he said.
Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Carol Brown said the exemption was developed to ensure government messaging about emergencies would not be removed by social media platforms.
“This is actually one of the measures being looked at through the consultations and views are being considered by the department,” she said.
Special Minister of State Don Farrell, who is in charge of electoral matters, told another hearing that truth in political advertising laws were needed following widespread misinformation during the Indigenous voice referendum campaign.
“It’s a difficult topic,” Senator Farrell said.
“You don’t want to stop free speech in this country, and we do want people to be able to express their views, even if you consider them crazy and so forth.
“But we’re looking at (the laws) and just how we would do it.”
Senator Farrell said while he did not know which organisation or government agency would be best suited at enforcing the potential laws, he noted the Australian Electoral Commission would not be comfortable in doing so.
“You’ve got to get a balance between people’s right to express a point of view different from yours, which you may strongly disagree with but also get some balancing of facts and reality,” he said.
“In a social media world, that’s becoming increasingly hard.
“People sometimes now read only the things that they want to read on their social media, they don’t read different points of view.”
The comments follow a recent survey from the Australia Institute showing 87 per cent of those surveyed wanted truth in political advertising laws in place before the next election, due in 2025.
The survey found 92 per cent of ‘yes’ voters in the Indigenous voice referendum and 83 per cent of ‘no’ voters also backed such laws.
A proposal for national truth in political advertising laws was also raised during a parliamentary inquiry into the 2022 federal election.
Andrew Brown and Tess Ikonomou
(Australian Associated Press)