Craig Kelly’s move to Palmer’s United Australia Party shows the need for urgent electoral law reform


AAP/Lukas Coch

Denis Muller, The University of MelbourneThe news that Craig Kelly, MP, serial purveyor of COVID misinformation, is to join Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party in order to fund his damaging ravings on a grander scale, confronts Australian democracy with a dilemma.

How is he to be prevented from adding to the harm he is already doing to the public welfare without trespassing unjustifiably on his right of free speech?

It is a classic example of how populists are exploiting the rights conferred by democracy to undermine democracy.

Kelly is frank about what he intends to do. Referring to his joining the UAP, he told The Sydney Morning Herald:

The crude reality is that I’ll have greater resources.

I have been screaming this stuff from the rooftops for a long time. It’s very hard to get this message through. We have a huge war chest, we can run television commercials, ads, we can finance a proper campaign that no other minor party or independent can.

He says that because these advertisements would be considered party-political advertisements, blocking them would be unconstitutional.

Whether or not he is right about that, it reveals his attitude: a preparedness to exploit a law protecting freedom of political speech so he can go on spreading COVID misinformation in pursuit of elected office.

The electoral and trade practices laws have no provisions to stop him. Section 329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act is confined to the issue of whether a publication is likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote. Sections 52 and 53 of the Trade Practices Act, which make false or misleading representations an offence, have nothing to say about political advertising.




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However, there are two philosophical bases for arguing the electoral laws should be amended to thwart this kind of harmful exploitation.

One is John Stuart Mill’s harm principle, which says the prevention of harm to others is a legitimate constraint on individual freedom.

The other is from John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration. Locke’s principle is that society is not obliged to tolerate actions or positions that undermine the civil order. Corrupting the electoral process as Kelly proposes – by misleading voters – falls well within that compass.

To borrow from Locke’s other great contribution to the development of modern democracy, his Second Treatise on Government, such actions or positions would breach the social contract. This contract is built on trust. Individuals submit themselves to the law on the condition that everyone else will do the same. Breaches of that trust are not to be tolerated.

This principle may be extended to other behaviours that breach the public trust: unethical conduct and anti-social conduct that might fall short of illegality but still do harm. Unethical conduct is embodied in Kelly’s stated intention to use Palmer’s millions to amplify his COVID misinformation, which would be to the detriment of public health.

In common with other mature democracies, Australia has predicated its laws on certain norms concerning truth, responsibility and the preservation of the social contract.

The problem is that in an age when populist politicians, social media and influential elements of mass media combine to spread harmful content, these norms – the guard rails of democracy – are being tested to breaking point.

In Washington on January 6 2021, when the mob invaded Congress, we saw what happens when the guard rails give way. For months leading up to and during the US presidential election, the then President Donald Trump and his mouthpiece, Fox News, abandoned the norm of truth-telling and persuaded a significant plurality of voters that the election was fraudulent.

The storming of the US Capitol in January shows what can happen when democracy’s guard rails come down.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/AAP

This confronts democracies with a paradox. If they extend free speech even to those who use it to do serious harm, then tolerant societies become defenceless against the baneful effects of this behaviour.

It is akin to Karl Popper’s argument concerning what he called the tolerance paradox:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

In common with other democracies, Australia places restrictions on free speech when it does unjustified harm. The defamation and contempt of court laws are just two examples among many.

There is no reason why this principle should not be extended to speech that causes provable harm to the public welfare in pursuit of election to parliament. Those harms could be defined and circumscribed in the Electoral Act without too much difficulty and would certainly include harms to public health.




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There is precedent. In the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorism in March 2019, Parliament enacted the Criminal Code Amendment (Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material) Act. Abhorrent violent material was confined in its definition to mean murder or attempted murder, a terrorist act, torture, rape or kidnapping. There are provisions to allow for the reporting of these acts.

At the same time, great care needs to be taken to avoid overreach, particularly in a society like Australia’s, which has no constitutional protection for free speech. That situation only sharpens the paradox.

As matters stand, Australia is leaving it to powerful foreign sources such as YouTube, unelected and unaccountable, to restrain the likes of Kelly, as when it recently suspended Sky News for spreading COVID misinformation.

Instead of confronting the paradox, the Australian parliament seems content to outsource to the global media platforms control over how our democratic freedoms are governed. Neither of the major parties has shown the slightest interest in engaging with this problem.The Conversation

Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Clive Palmer’s back on the trail, with Brian Burston in tow


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Surely Clive Palmer is one soufflé unlikely to rise twice – although predictions are hazardous when we’re talking about a man dedicated to buying votes.

It beggars belief that Palmer, discredited in the political shambles and business disasters and disgraces of the last few years, can be starting out again, planning to run candidates in “all seats” in the House of Representatives and for the Senate.

The comings and goings into, out of and within the Senate this term have made that house a travesty.

The changes to the Senate voting system will curb the ability of “rats and mice” – micro parties and independents – to win seats at the election. But any voters so angry about the more conventional parties that they are tempted to look Palmer’s way again might like to consider the shenanigans on Monday.

Senator Brian Burston, formerly of One Nation, after his acrimonious divorce from Pauline Hanson told the Senate just after 10am that he was sitting as an independent.

He was one of three senators making statements about their new affiliations. Tasmania’s Steve Martin, who was on the Jacqui Lambie election ticket but had sat as an independent, reported he’d joined the Nationals since the full Senate last met; Fraser Anning, formerly of the One Nation ticket who’d also been an independent, put on record that he had now moved to the Katter’s Australian Party.




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An hour or so after his declaration, Burston had publicly re-partnered – as had already been anticipated. Now he “leads” the United Australia Party (UAP) in the Senate – its sole member. In today’s Senate, you don’t need company to have a party.

The UAP is the new iteration of the Palmer United Party, which made a splash at the 2013 election but had drowned by 2016.

It will be recalled by those who follow these things that Palmer had originally wanted to use the UAP moniker, ripping off the name of the major conservative party of the 1930s and early 1940s.

But someone had grabbed a similar name ahead of him and so we had PUP, three of whose candidates reached the Senate on Palmer’s popularity and money, while the man himself won the Queensland seat of Fairfax. Then the PUP family imploded, just as the Hanson clan has done in this parliament.

Palmer, welcoming Burston as his face in the Senate, said he looked “forward to a long and happy relationship with him”. Clive is not a man who learns from experience.

Palmer also doesn’t like “name” parties these days. “The structure of one-person parties has been shown to be a failure. It is not about Derryn Hinch, Jacqui Lambie, Clive Palmer, Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi or Bob Katter, that’s not what matters,” he said in a statement. Never mind that Palmer has huge billboards of himself around the place over the slogan “MAKE AUSTRALIA GREAT”.

“What matters is that we need to unite the country to do what’s best for all our citizens”. Palmer claimed to have had a big response to his new party.

Whatever the truth of that, having a parliamentary representative means the UAP doesn’t need the 500 members otherwise required for registration. It’s a two-way street – Burston knew any prospect of his being re-elected would be better if he had a rich backer. When Hanson wanted someone else to head the next NSW Senate ticket, he was shopping around.

Palmer thrives on hyperbole and publicity. His Monday news conference with Burston was typically farcical, with its clashes with the media and plenty of blather. Palmer praised Burston’s “courage” – Burston publicly fell out with Hanson over her breaking the deal with the government to back the company tax cuts – and his “foresight to stand up for the people who elected him, to aim for their aspirations”.

The Labor member for Herbert, Cathy O’Toole broke protocol and joined the fray, confronting Palmer about the fallout out from the collapse of his company Queensland Nickel in 2016. Later Palmer said he was “discussing with my political advisors” the possibility of contesting Herbert.

The ConversationAmong his declarations Palmer said that “Australians are sick of parties based on vanity”. Let’s hope so.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 2 December 2013 – Turn Around Tony


Australian Politics: 13 November 2013 – Other News


Australian Politics: 12 November 2013 – Circus is in Town


Australian Politics: 10 October 2013


Australian Politics: 20 July 2013



The Palmer United Party is just one of many political parties contesting the upcoming federal election. Clive Palmer, founder of the party, intends to be Prime Minister after the election – but what is he like? The link below is to an article reporting on the man behind the party.”>

For more visit:
http://www.smh.com.au/national/the-palmersaurus-party-20130715-2pyvl.html

Ever wondered what life is like for a former Prime Minister? The link below is to an article reporting on life after politics for former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

For more visit:
http://www.smh.com.au/national/life-after-politics-for-julia-gillard-the-whirl-is-her-oyster-20130719-2q9ra.html

Australian Politics: 14 July 2013


With the return of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister in Australia, things have been moving along fairly quickly in Australian politics. Time of course is running out as an election looms, so time is necessarily of the essence. One of the areas that the ALP has moved to address is the carbon tax, with Kevin Rudd’s government moving toward an emissions trading scheme. This has brought the typical and expected responses from the opposition, as well as charges of hypocrisy from the Greens. For more visit the following links:

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/kevin-rudd-confirms-government-to-scrap-fixed-carbon-price-20130714-2pxqi.html

The link below is to an article that pretty much sums up the situation currently in Australian politics I think – well worth a read.

For more visit:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/12/tony-abbott-fall-stunt-men

Also causing continuing angst in Australia is the issue of asylum seekers and boat people. There has been even more terrible news from the seas surrounding Christmas Island, with yet another asylum seeker tragedy involving a boat from Indonesia.

Around the edges of the mainstream parties are those of Bob Katter and Clive Palmer. There are stories of an alleged financial offer from Clive Palmer’s ‘Palmer United Party’ to join with ‘Katter’s Australian Party’ for $20 million dollars and form the combined ‘Katter United Australian Party.’ For more visit the links below:

http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/national/palmer-denies-deal-with-katters-party/story-e6frfku9-1226679175607
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-07-14/katter2c-palmer-at-odds-over-claims-mining-magnate-offered-fin/4819098

And finally, for just a bit of a chuckle – not much of one – just a small chuckle, have a read of the following article linked to at:

http://www.perthnow.com.au/news/turnbull-still-not-laughing-at-tonys-internet-humour/story-fnii5s3z-1226679169349