On Wednesday at a press conference in Perth with federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese, Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan slammed the “idiots” and “morons” who parked one of the trucks outside his house. During the same press conference, the truck drove by.
“They’re idiots. And they’re morons,” Mr McGowan told reporters. “And whoever is behind that should be ashamed of themselves. They go and park it outside my house and then film.”
A closer look at the billboard ad shows it is authorised by Matthew Sheehan of Advance Australia.
Who is the lobby group authorising the ad?
In February, Defence Minister Peter Dutton that the Chinese government has “picked” opposition leader Anthony Albanese as its preferred prime minister.
Mr Albanese hit back, saying national security “was too important to engage in game playing.”
After a Chinese vessel shone a laser at a Royal Australian Air Force surveillance plane off the north coast of Australia in February, Mr Albanese said: “Well, it’s an outrageous act of aggression that should be condemned. And I condemn it.
“…whoever is in government will face the difficult task ahead in dealing with China.”
The conservative lobby group Advance Australia, also known as ‘Advance’, aligns with the Coalition’s stance that Labor is “weak” on China.
However it takes different positions to the Coalition on a range of issues.
The group’s website says it was founded in 2018 to fight “woke politicians and elitist activist groups” that were “taking Aussies for a ride with their radical agenda”.
On its ‘about’ page, Advance says its three key beliefs are ‘freedom,’ ‘security’ and ‘prosperity’. It wants Australia to double its defence spending.
The billboard truck during a press conference held by Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan and federal opposition leader Anthony at Midland Hospital in Perth on 6 April , 2022. Credit: Matt Jelonek/Getty Images
“While the elites forget about the threats of Islamic terrorism and the spectre of the aggressive Chinese Communist Party, ADVANCE fights for a defence force that’s fit for purpose,” the page reads, next to ‘security’.
The group also claims that “mainstream Australia is under siege by stupid laws and woke ideologies like ‘net zero’”.
It states that “Australia is a free country”, fights to protect Australia Day and rejects “putting down Australia’s western cultural heritage as ‘racist’ or ‘discriminatory’”.
The authorisation says the group is based in the ACT and has over 75,000 likes on Facebook.
AEC: ‘We’re not the arbiter of truth’
While South Australia and the ACT have laws that apply to their jurisdictions requiring truth in political advertising, there is no such law at a federal level.
And, when it’s a federal election, the AEC legislation supersedes state and territory law requiring truth in political ads.
This means you may continue to see more “CCP votes Labor” trucks floating around.
The debate around introducing truth in political advertising laws in Australia has spanned decades, with a sore point lying in the difficulty of proving something is non-factual.
On the AEC website, and across its social media channels, the Commission often reminds the Australian public that it is “not the arbiter of truth regarding political communication” – and that it does not have authority under the Commonwealth Electoral Act.
But the AEC has said it will be ramping up its ‘Stop and Consider’ campaign this federal election, which urges voters to check the source of information behind political communication.
The AEC, which actually regulates the communication around voting – not the content, said on Twitter that the original billboard which had a tick on the ballot had been changed at their request to a number one, so as not to confuse voters.
But Bill Browne, a senior researcher on democracy and accountability at the Australia Institute think-tank, said federal laws should follow South Australia’s lead.
“When Australians see ads that seem misleading, offensive or inflammatory, they will naturally wonder what could be done to prevent them,” he told The Feed in a statement.
“In Australia, it’s perfectly legal to lie in a political ad – but it shouldn’t be.”
Nonetheless, Mr Browne said truth in political advertising laws would still leave scope for “offensive” material.
“That said, truth in political advertising laws are strictly limited to claims of fact – which means they won’t address attack ads or offensive material,” Mr Browne said. “For that, we need politicians and campaigners to commit to better behaviour, and for the public to expect it of them.”