Anyone intending to communicate referendum matter (matter communicated for the dominant purpose of influencing the way people vote in a referendum) must ensure the communication is appropriately authorised.
This webpage and its links are a guide only. The AEC does not approve referendum communications, nor does the AEC provide legal advice on whether a particular communication complies with the legislative requirements.
The AEC’s general guidance is – ‘when in doubt, authorise it’. If you are unsure about whether your communication requires an authorisation, seek your own independent legal advice.
Note: The authorisation requirements for broadcast political communications (either by television or radio) are regulated by the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA). Please refer to the ACMA website for further information.
The purpose of authorisation statements
The requirement to include an authorisation on referendum matter is a transparency measure. Among other reasons, an authorisation is designed to enable voters to know the source of a communication that seek to influence how you will vote.
Note: While truth in referendum communication is not regulated, knowing the source of communications allows you to weigh up the referendum information you see, hear or read. The AEC encourages voters to check the source of referendum communications.
The referendum authorisation requirements are set out in the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (the Referendum Act) and the Commonwealth Electoral (Authorisation of Voter Communication) Determination 2021 (the Determination).
Authorisation requirements for referendums
The following flowchart provides a general guide to identify whether your referendum communication needs to be authorised:
Further information on the referendum requirements is set out below:
A referendum communication is the communication of ‘referendum matter’.
A. ‘Referendum matter’ is matter that is communicated, or intended to be communicated, for the dominant purpose of influencing the way electors vote at a referendum (section 3AA of the Referendum Act).
Subsections 3AA(1)-(6) of the Referendum Act contain further guidance to determine whether matter is ‘referendum matter’. For example, unless the contrary is proved, the dominant purpose of a communication is presumed to be referendum matter (by section 3AA(4)), if the matter expressly promotes or opposes a proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution, to the extent that the matter relates to a referendum.
The following matters must be taken into account when determining the dominant purpose of a communication or intended communication of matter (under section 3AA(5)):
- whether the communication or intended communication is or would be to the public or a section of the public;
- whether the matter contains an express or implicit comment on a proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution;
- whether the communication or intended communication is or would be received by electors near a polling place;
- how soon a referendum is to be held after the creation or communication of the matter;
- whether the communication or intended communication is or would be unsolicited.
A. The following referendum communications require an authorisation, a communication containing referendum matter that are one or more of the following:
- paid advertisements - including where all or only part of the distribution or production of the advertisement was ‘paid for’;
- print communications - such as stickers, fridge magnets, leaflets, flyers, pamphlets, notices, posters and how-to-vote cards; and
- communications by, or on behalf of, a disclosure entity (in all mediums).
Note: the authorisation requirements apply to modern communication channels and methods including online platforms, bulk text messages and robo-calls.
The form of an authorisation will depend on the type of communication, and the entity or person who authorises the communication. The authorisation particulars are set out in the table at section 110C(5) of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, summarised as follows:
A PDF copy of this table is available here.
Note: People and entities spending money on campaigning or communicating in relation to the respective referendum matter in excess of the indexed financial disclosure threshold will also be covered by the authorisation requirements.
Enquiries or complaints about referendum communications
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