The Turnbull Government will try to force special laws through Parliament this week to stop sexist and bigoted promotional material in the same-sex postal vote despite concerns it could violate free speech.
In a sign seized on by critics of the Government’s “rushed” approach to the issue, the legislation is being proposed because of concerns existing rules that affect elections won’t apply because of the way the postal vote is being run under the auspices of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Under electoral laws, proponents behind any advertising have to be identifiable.
That includes the name and party of those who authorise a particular advertisement.
The same-sex marriage postal vote will run for two months.
The Government had maintained it expected a “respectful” campaign but in recent days, after worrying signs highlighted by opponents of the postal vote, has signalled it will seek to align advertising for the vote with traditional elections.
The West Australian understands the new laws to cover the postal vote have already been put together and could be made public as early as today.
They will need support from either Labor or the crossbenchers in the Senate to be passed into law.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Labor’s inclination was for a civilised debate but the party would want to see the proposed laws first.
“We’ll look at whatever the Government puts forward, there’s an issue there, it might have some consequences for the court case that’s being brought,” he told the ABC. “They should have thought of this before they embarked on this postal survey.”
The proposed laws may be sent to a Senate committee for closer inspection.
There are concerns if the laws are too harsh they could infringe free speech provisions around election advertising.
Another issue is how they may affect the High Court challenge to the postal vote which is due for a special hearing early next month.
The postal vote is due to start from September 12.