The People versus Seven Sunrise

Because the Poll Bludger does not like to wade out of his depth, the obvious electoral law issues raised by the Seven Sunrise program’s "Vote for Me" contest were not canvassed in this earlier posting. Graham Orr, senior lecturer in Law at Griffith University, has kindly offered the following thoughts.

The show may implicate electoral bribery rules. Section 326 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act says: "A person shall not … receive … or agree to … receive, any property or benefit of any kind … on an understanding that any candidature [of that] person … will in any manner be influenced or affected". There’s a mirror offence for offering or paying such a benefit.

The AEC has chosen not to look into this closely as a criminal issue, and the parties have backed off, for fear of sounding like party-poopers. But if one of the ‘Pollstars’ were elected, gloves might be off. And on an election petition, bribery does not have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt, but if proven, it leads to automatic unseating.

Of course as regards Hetty Johnston, there’s a clear defence in that she was already pledged to stand, as you point out. Other candidates might be viewed differently.

Seven’s lawyers have been only half-clever. The ‘rules’, which form a virtual contract between Seven and the applicants, state: "Each State Finalist who successfully nominates … will be provided with the following reasonable costs of participating in Stage Three: … a donation of $10 000 (inclusive of GST) towards campaign expenses’".

They’ve sought to legally portray the payment as just another campaign donation to a candidate, rather than an incentive to induce a candidature. To be on safer ground Seven should have made payment only by way of reimbursement for actual campaign expenses. All it would take is one candid contestant to say: ‘A key reason I stood was the $10 000 offered’. Backed up by proof that some of the money was not spent on campaigning but pocketed, and Seven might be in trouble with section 326.

The broader question is why Seven is inducing candidates in the first place – for fun? ratings?? because they are such good corporate democrats???

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.