Government is spending on neutral education campaign, not on promoting Yes case for Voice referendum

Government is spending on neutral education campaign, not on promoting Yes case for Voice referendum

What was claimed

The verdict

The federal government has committed more than $1 million to fund a Yes campaign for the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum.

False. The government has committed $1.5 million to a strictly neutral education campaign to raise awareness of the constitution and referendum process.

By Frank Algra-Maschio

Viral Facebook posts are spreading disinformation by wrongly claiming that the federal government has provided almost $1.5 million to fund the Yes campaign for the Voice referendum.

One Facebook post states, “Federal government commits more than $1 million to Voice referendum Yes education campaign”, and links to an ABC News article, despite the article clearly reporting that the funding is for a “neutral civics education program” ahead of the referendum.

The post goes on to state, “So where is the equality for both sides of this campaign? That lying mumbling little tool is using all our tax payer money for this Voice that can take over our Parliament.”

“Another giant waste of taxpayers money for the YES vote. Has anyone seen the funding going to the NO vote?” asks another post.

One of the posts has been shared more than 80 times, including to groups with thousands of members, some which explicitly oppose the Voice to Parliament referendum, such as the “Senator Jacinta Price - Dont Divide Us Vote No” group, which has more than 3000 members. 

But the claims are false. The government will in fact provide $1.48 million to two organisations to deliver a civics information program about the constitution and referendum process.

This will “allow them to improve public understanding of the constitution and referendums by increasing reach and visibility of their existing civics education products through digital channels, libraries and other public institutions around Australia in the coming months,” according to a media release by the Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney.

The Constitution Education Fund Australia (CEFA), which will receive $1 million, is a not-for-profit body established in 1995. It creates educational material for schools and universities “to educate Australians of all ages about the workings of the Australian constitution and the Australian system of government,” according to its website

CEO Mrs Kerry Jones told RMIT FactLab via email that CEFA’s new program is explicitly focussed on educating the public in a neutral and accessible manner. It will provide “interactive online resources to improve public understanding of the constitution, Australia’s system of government, and referendum process ahead of the Voice referendum,” she said.

“This project 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 team of constitutional law academic experts from the University of Western Australia [has] been contracted in the development of the forthcoming project, to ensure that it presents factual and neutral legal information regarding the constitution and referendum process,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House (MoAD), which will receive $475,000, also confirmed that the funding will be for neutral, educational purposes.

A spokesperson stated via email that the MoAD did not have a position on the referendum, and that the funding “will be used for the development and distribution of neutral and accessible content about referendums, the constitution and their role in Australia’s democracy”.

MoAD is a Corporate Commonwealth Entity within the federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts. 

The federal government is prohibited from spending money on presenting arguments in favour of, or against, a referendum, according to section 11(4) of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 (Cth)

This prohibition does not apply to the distribution of information pamphlets to Australian households explaining both campaigns, which had been opposed by the current government, but will now go ahead.

In March, however, the government suspended section 11 of the Referendum Act. Section 11 of the Referendum Act was also suspended for the 1999 Republic referendum, and the proposed referendum in 2013. 

According to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, this decision was taken was to ensure that civics education programs regarding the referendum can be funded by the government, without breaching the Referendum Act. 

“The bill will temporarily suspend expenditure restrictions in section 11 of the referendum act to ensure the government can provide Australians with factual information about the referendum,” Mr Dreyfus said. 

“This information will provide voters with a good understanding of Australia's constitution, the referendum process, and factual information about the referendum proposal. The government has no intention of funding Yes and No campaigns,” Mr Dreyfus said.

A recent parliamentary inquiry also suggested that section 11(4) be amended to allow the government to fund education campaigns surrounding referendums. 

Members of the current government have consistently stated that they will not be funding yes or no campaigns for the upcoming referendum outside of the above mentioned information pamphlets.

Thumbnail photo: Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney. (Credit: ABC News, Adam Kennedy).


The verdict

False. The federal government did not provide almost $1.5 million to support the Yes campaign in the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum. The funding was provided to two neutral organisations to raise awareness of the constitution and referendum process, without taking sides in the debate.


30 May 2023


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