A debate about what constitutes appropriate election advertising has kicked off even before this year’s federal election has been announced.

News Limited’s Adelaide tabloid The Advertiser has refused to run an Australian Sex Party advertisement that featured a photoshopped version of opposition leader Tony Abbott clinging desperately to the leg of a woman in fishnet stockings.

The image, which is an advertisement for the Sex Party’s stall at this weekend’s Sexpo event, has the young woman saying to Abbott: “No Tony, I’m going to Sexpo. You can do the ironing.”

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According to Australian Sex Party Public Officer Robbie Swan, the advertisement makes reference to Abbott’s attitudes toward women but the paper refused to run it because he might consider it offensive.

“They didn’t try to claim that the ad was defamatory or obscene, [rather] that it would be offensive to Tony Abbott and they would need his approval,” he told Crikey.

In a letter to Advertiser editor-in-chief Melvin Mansell, Swan expressed his surprise at the need for approval: “The implications that arise … for all political parties who might wish to advertise ‘against’ their opponent in forthcoming election … are quite serious and onerous.”

In a press release today, Sex Party president Fiona Patten said the decision to block the ad was undemocratic and that her party had the backing of precedents in the High Court.

“All newspaper editors in Australia have an obligation to run any political ad as long as it’s not defamatory or obscene,” she said. “The roots of democracy are shaken when editors pick and choose over which party can advertise and which cannot.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Electoral Commission told Crikey there is “nothing in the Commonwealth Electoral Act that obliges any outlet to publish political advertisements”.

The Australian Press Council echoed this sentiment, with a spokesperson saying “it was up to the editors” to decide what they do and don’t publish.

Mansell was unavailable for comment, but a spokesperson confirmed the editor had made the decision to block the advertisement.

After extended talks with The Advertiser failed to get their initial advertisement published, the Australian Sex Party submitted a different ad for publication.

The revised copy features an elderly woman and the tagline “Help us get rid of the nanny state”, a statement that, according to Swan, is “as much about the Advertiser as it is about Tony Abbott.”

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The revised advertisement ran on page 26 of today’s edition.

Peter Fray

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