How, exactly, do our electoral referees hold the ring? Well, our elections are free and fair – but there’s certainly an air of affected, exaggerated and insincere earnestness about them. We have unctuous politicians – and matching unctuous umpires.

The big political parties have teamed up in Canberra to grant themselves exemptions from the Trade Practices Act and privacy laws. That puts electoral referees at a disadvantage. Still, they seem very proud that they’re the only ones in the ring in nice clean shirts and ties. Take an example from the current Victorian state election campaign.

The Tenants Union of Victoria wrote to the state Electoral Commission at the start of the week to make a formal complaint about electoral material they believed breached the Electoral Act – a Liberal Party pamphlet that made a series of claims about the policies of the Liberal, Labor and Green parties.

The Tenants Union took exception to the comments it made that the Greens intend “Making it impossible for landlords to evict private tenants.” It passed on copies of brochure and the Greens’ policy.

It told the VEC: “We do not endorse any individuals or parties for election. We are, however, deeply concerned about any electoral material or claims by candidates that seeks to misrepresent policies that are intended to improve the rights and interests of tenants in Victoria. We believe that this leaflet seeks to cause fear and alarm among private landlords by making a false statement about the policies of the Greens.”

And it requested that the VEC “compel the Liberal Party to withdraw this leaflet”.

A response from the electoral commissioner came the same way. It said: “I note that the material contains a range of assertions that are general in nature. Elections in Australia allow for robust debate and expressions of opinion.”

In other words, it admitted that almost anything goes.

But it also had this to say: “You are of course free to rebut the assertions made by the Liberal party (sic), so long as you do so within the law”.

Unctuous. And patronising. That’s our politicians – and our electoral referees.

Peter Fray

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