What was claimed
The federal government is funding the Yes campaign for the upcoming referendum.
False. The government is funding neutral civics education programs on the Voice to Parliament. Both the Yes and No campaigns are funded by private donations and were both granted tax deductibility status by the government.
By Lulu Graham and Kathryn Whitfield
Misinformation about who is funding the Voice referendum campaigns has resurfaced, with social media users claiming the Albanese government is throwing taxpayers’ money at the Yes campaign.
The claims have been repeatedly posted on Facebook and Instagram accounts, even though they have been previously shown to be false by fact checkers.
One Facebook user, posting on a No campaign page, claims “[The government] is throwing money towards the YES campaign and giving tax exemptions to an organisation supporting the YES campaign but not a brass razoo to the NO campaign. Surely, this is corrupt, unconscionable, and malfeasant.”
Another claims: “The Government is funding the Yes campaign in the upcoming coming referendum on the Voice. Surely there should be an equal amount spent on the No campaign? So, where are the ads?”
An Instagram account similarly captions a Vote No post with: “If the corrupt l¥ing [sic] Australian government are spending your hard earned limited tax dollars on ads pushing a YES vote, it might be time to ask why”.
But these resurfaced claims are (still) false.
The federal government is prohibited by law from providing money to either the Yes or No campaigns to promote their cases. There is no evidence that the government has contravened that law.
The Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said in an interview on the ABC’s 7.30 program in November 2022 that taxpayer’s money would not be used to promote the Yes or No referendum campaigns.
Ms Burney’s office has confirmed to RMIT FactLab in an email that the “Commonwealth government is not providing any funding to the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ campaigns”.
The minister’s spokesperson made clear that the law prohibits such funding, citing Section 11 (4) of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, which states that the government “shall not expend money in respect of the presentation of the argument in favour of, or the argument against, a proposed law”.
Paul Kildea, associate professor in the University of New South Wales Faculty of Law and Justice, told FactLab in an email that the law prevents the government from spending any money in favour or against any referendum proposal.
However, the government can provide funding for civics education programs and for the AEC to run the referendum and produce and distribute information pamphlets, Dr Kildea said.
“The law allows the government to spend public money on other aspects of the referendum,” he said. “For instance, the federal government can fund neutral civics education programs. And it provides the Australian Electoral Commission with substantial resources so that it can run the referendum and ensure that voting goes smoothly on the day.”
The spokesperson for Ms Burney confirmed that “funding was allocated for a neutral, fact-based civics information campaign to help ensure all Australians can cast an informed vote at the referendum”.
Balanced and impartial education of referendum campaigns is a legal requirement under section 11(7) of the Referendum Act which makes clear that “public civics education and awareness activities “must not address the arguments for or against a proposed law for the alteration of the Constitution”.
FactLab previously checked a claim that the government was funding the Yes campaign and found it to be false.
The previous fact check found the Constitution Education Fund Australia (CEFA) and the Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) had both been allocated total funds of just under $1.5 million by the government for neutral public civics education and awareness activities.
Established in 1995, CEFA is a not-for-profit body that creates educational material for schools and universities on Australia’s constitution and system of government.
CEFA CEO Mrs Kerry Jones told FactLab in May that the civics education program “ is required to be neutral and strictly factual, and must not directly or indirectly promote, repeat or reference a Yes or No position or cover details of the referendum proposal or information relating to the Voice”.
A MoAD spokesperson said the funding “will be used for the development and distribution of neutral and accessible content about referendums, the constitutions and their role in Australia’s democracy”.
The Referendum Act allows for money to be allocated for the “preparation, printing and sending of information pamphlets” that equally present arguments from both the Yes and No campaigns.
In the 2023/24 budget, the government allocated a total of $10.6m for this purpose and the cases presented for Yes and No were written by the respective parliamentary committees and published as an online pamphlet in July on the Australian Electoral Commission website. The AEC states on its website that a printed version of the Yes/No pamphlet “will be sent to all households closer to referendum voting day”.
The Yes and No campaigns are both funded by donations. The spokesman for Ms Burney said that the government had listed both the Yes campaign’s Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition and the merged No campaign’s Australians for Unity as deductible gift recipients for donations.
For example, according to the Financial Review, former fund manager Simon Fenwick is one of the biggest backers of the No campaign, “matching $250,000 in donations in a new push by activist group Advance”.
While on the Yes side, a group of Australia’s richest philanthropists and family foundations had pledged $17 million to support the campaign for an Indigenous Voice, the newspaper reported in April.
False. Section 11(4) of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984, prohibits the government from spending public money in favour of, or against, the referendum proposal. The law requires the government, however, to fund neutral civics education and awareness programs on the Voice to Parliament. The programs are required by law to remain neutral and may not promote one campaign over another.
Acknowledgement of Country
RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business - Artwork 'Luwaytini' by Mark Cleaver, Palawa.