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Council Election Watchdog Powerless

The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) has had enough of fake news and will be setting up a watchdog (Independent Council Election Observer), to investigate false or misleading claims made online.

Only candidates will be able to ‘dob’ each other in for fake news, with the watchdog aiming to publish any misleading claims within 48 hours of the complaint. The body will be headed up by retired district judge John Robertson, and funded by the Local Government Association Queensland but operated through a private company; it is going to take an enormous amount of manpower if it is to be effective.

I’m not planning on putting out fake news myself, but many other election candidates across Queensland will be, in this dog-eat-dog world of politics. I remember when my father was in local council and he never had to deal with fake news which spreads so fast on social media and through digital channels.

I have serious doubts over whether this watchdog has the resources to actually call out all fake news and then make sure it is advertised enough for people to realise they have just read fake news. The LGAQ is only an associate and not a government authority so therefore there is no legislation in place where it can create consequences for offenders. Even with the advertising guidelines of the ACCC, there is no power to hold election advertising and candidates to account. With candidates to make the complaints, I know that I don’t have time to sit around and monitor social media for fake news – my priority is getting out and talking to the residents of Division 4.

What happens if a contentious rumour about a candidate is circulated but the watchdog cannot refute that it isn’t true? Would candidates take advantage of this and use the watchdog to help air the dirty laundry of other candidates? Could this independent observer actually make matters worse?

While I support any effort or initiative that can bring us more honest elections, I request that you make sure you do your own research from multiple sources and if you do have a question of a candidate, ask them, don’t rely on social media.

Digital advertising, especially social media, really is a new frontier in elections that I do not see being controllable in the near future.

Russell Milligan – Candidate for Division 4



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