New election watchdog to keep Moreton Bay candidates in check

The conduct of candidates standing for Moreton Bay Regional Council will be under the microscope with a new, Australian-first watchdog to expose fake news in the lead up to Queensland’s local government elections in March.

The Independent Council Election Observer (ICEO) will review claims of false or deceptive campaign material, including claims made in public speeches and posted on social media sites.

Candidates for councillor and mayor can lodge complaints, with the ICEO to publish the findings of its fact-checking investigations on its website and social media platforms.  Led by retired District Court and Planning and Environment Court Judge John Robertson, the ICEO will also self-initiate investigations into misleading or untrue claims and hoped to publish all findings within days.

“Our aim is to promote truth, accuracy and a level playing field in the council elections, to give voters more confidence and certainty around the claims that are made,” Mr Robertson said.

More than 46 candidates ran for either councillor or mayor for Moreton Bay Regional Council in the 2016 Queensland local government elections, a poll that was remarkable for the number, nature and extent of attacks on individuals and councils.

Mr Robertson urged candidates in regional and remote Queensland councils to use the ICEO to keep each other in check.

“More than 1500 candidates across 77 councils are expected to stand in the March elections, so we’re expecting to be extremely busy,” he said. “And we’re hoping many of those requests come from candidates in regional and rural areas, from Cairns to Coolangatta and out to Cunnamulla.

“Voters will be able to access true, accurate information through the ICEO’s published reviews, enhancing the democratic process of the election.”

Mr Robertson said the ICEO would work within the framework for existing agencies including the Electoral Commission, the Office of the Independent Assessor and the Crime and Corruption Commission.

The ICEO has been funded by the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ).  However, it will operate at arm’s length from the peak body via a service company owned by the senior partners of a Brisbane law firm.

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