David Marler

David Marler

Queensland reporter at No Fibs
David is a full time Queensland carer for his son and in quiet times contributes to NoFibs.
David Marler

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David Marler

Professor Anne Twomey On The History of Referendum Pamphlets

Voters shouldn’t expect too much from the release of the First Nations Voice referendum pamphlet released today. Professor Emerita Anne Twomey is a constitutional law solicitor and spoke recently about the contents of such documents from past referenda which may contain misinformation.

The archaic legal requirement for a pamphlet dates back to 1912. After a failed referendum, federal Attorney-General Billy Hughes proposed the document which would be written by politicians. Professor Twomey said he indicated that it was to be “impersonable, reasonable and judicial. There would be no imputation of motives and it would appeal to reason rather than emotions or party sentiments.”

“That really hasn’t happened and that’s the problem,” she added.

Professor Twomey gave the example of how No campaign claims were able to be printed in the 1937 aviation referendum because there was no mechanism for fact-checking. The Australian Electoral Commission has no power to determine if the information supplied is accurate before sending it to be printed. In contrast, New South Wales does require public servants to check the information with experts in the field before producing the document.

The writers of the pamphlet are chosen from politicians. In this referendum, even though enough Coalition members voted for the referendum to take place, they made sure they had a strategic majority on the No side to be able to control the content.

In the 1999 republic referendum pamphlet, the No case was longer than the Yes side because it contained pages of slogans. One of those is the famous “don’t know, vote no” which is being deployed in 2023.

The process of providing a pamphlet is expensive because it has to reach every voter and is not restricted to a household. Professor Twomey says even though it may be useful for some people, it’s not the way the population receives information in the modern era.

“The main problem, of course, is that it is emotive, it’s there to manipulate you, it’s not necessarily going to inform you,” she said.

The federal government did propose abolition of the need for a pamphlet but the opposition would not support the referendum bill unless it was maintained.