Monday, May 24, 2010

Truth in (political) "advertising"

I always greatly admired the position of the Australian Democrats on how the business of politics should be conducted, that was one of the reasons why I briefly joined them. There is much to like in a statement made by former Senator Natasha Stott-Despoja about the need for truthfullness.

There is, however, perhaps an over reliance on the idea that laws can make much difference. The s52 of the TPA certainly outlaws misleading and deceptive conduct and s53 outlaws false or misleading representations. But neither is a particularly easy case to bring.

Polticians of all kinds suffer from the "law" delusion, that passing a law is what will make behaviour change. Out in the real world dealing with firms the idea is building that you need to do more to make sure the decisions of consumers reward the firms you want to reward rather than trying to simply outlaw bad behaviour. Amongst other things that creates incentives to get even better, whereas oultawing only draws a line of minimal acvceptable behaviour.

The difficult juncture is how to get clarity rather than truth. Other reforms might be more effective here. Two I can think of would be to change the parliamentary rules that stop parliamentary benefits once campaign launches occur and to require each party to lodge prior to polling day an 8 page "manifesto" that is the official statement of what they are going to the polls onto be .

The first of these corrects an error we have now. Parliamentarians benefits of office cease in the election period once the official campaign launch occurs - which is why the official launch now happens at the end not the beginning. The media doesn't help, as they report politiciand "promises" more on what effec they think they wll have on popularity/election outcome than as policy proposals and what their real effect will be.

The latter could be married with a "clean booth" policy on polling day. The point is to force parties to refine the overall message dow to eight pages of A4 text, ten point times new Roman, headings in Arial 14, 16 and 18 point. No pictures and no more than five graphs or tables for which size rules can also be imposed. That document is the one to which the public can hold them accountable following the election.

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