Marriage law survey integrity safeguards - FAQs


Authorisation requirements

Q.  What marriage law survey communications require an authorisation?

A.  The authorisation requirement in the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017 (Safeguards Act) applies to a wide range of communications including all publicly broadcasted media.  This includes television, radio, digital television and digital radio stations, printed material, voice calls (including robocalls) and text messaging (for example, bulk text messaging).  It covers:

  • all marriage law survey matter in the form of “paid for” advertisements;
  • a broad range of marriage law survey matter in the form of promotional items, such as leaflets, flyer, posters and fridge magnets.
  • a matter that is communicated by, or on behalf of, a person, that is intended to affect whether another person provides a marriage law survey response to the Statistician, or the content of such a response.

Q.  What is marriage law survey matter?

A.  ‘Marriage law survey matter’ is defined in the Safeguards Act to be communications of the following kinds:

  1. matter commenting on same-sex marriage, the marriage law survey process or the marriage law survey question (other than matter printed or published by the Statistician);
  2. matter stating or indicating the marriage law survey question (other than matter printed or published by the Statistician);
  3. matter referring to a meeting held or to be held in connection with same-sex marriage, the marriage law survey process or the marriage law survey question.

For example, the first matters described in paragraph (a) would cover matters encouraging an enrolled person to provide, or not provide, a marriage law survey response to the Statistician.

Q.  What communications do not require an authorisation under the Safeguards Act?

A.  The following types of communication about the marriage law survey do not require an authorisation:

  • communications that form part of clothing or any other item that is intended to be worn on the body and items where the size or nature makes it impracticable to include a notification;
  • communications that form part of the reporting of news, the presenting of current affairs or any editorial content in the news media;
  • communications engaged in solely for genuine satirical, academic or artistic purposes;
  • an opinion poll or research relating to the intentions of survey participants;
  • a communication for personal purposes.  This exception is intended to ensure that personal communications which are clearly not intended to be communicated more broadly do not require an authorisation. For example, a supporter of a politically active group calls a family member of his/her family or a friend and discusses marriage law survey matters with no intention that their views will be distributed more widely in a public setting;
  • an internal communication of a notifying entity which is clearly not intended to be communicated publicly, such as internal consultation on a communications strategy;
  • a communication at a meeting of two or more persons if the identity of the person (the ‘speaker’) communicating at the meeting, and any entity on whose behalf the speaker is communicating, can reasonably be identified by the person or persons to whom the speaker is speaking;
  • a live communication of a meeting, but not any later communication of that meeting.  This removes the authorisation requirements from live communications, such as live broadcasting, without exempting later communication such as delayed broadcasting; and
  • a communication solely for the purpose of announcing a meeting.

Q. When do the authorisation requirements in the Safeguards Act apply?

A.  The authorisation requirements apply to the communication of marriage law survey matter that occurs from Thursday 14 September 2017, through until the completion of the survey on Wednesday 15 November (or earlier if the ABS publishes the survey results before then) (known as the ‘limitation period’). 

Q.  Who administers complaints about authorisations?

A.  The Electoral Commissioner is responsible for administering the authorisation requirements and other offences and civil penalties in the Act.  Where the Electoral Commissioner receives a complaint he will consider it in a similar way to complaints received during an election campaign.  The Commissioner’s usual approach is to first issue a warning of a possible breach and seek the removal of content that is published in breach of the requirements.  The matter is only referred to the court, if this preliminary action fails to address the possible breach.  At that point the Commissioner may seek an injunction and only in more serious cases as a last resort may ask the Court to impose a civil penalty.

Q.  What is the penalty for not including the required authorisation particulars in a marriage law survey matter?

A.  The penalty is the same as applies to unauthorised communications on an electoral matter at a federal election (i.e. 120 penalty units or up to $25,200).

Authorisations for written material

Q.  What particulars must a notifying entity include at the end of a written communication during the limitation period?

A.   The authorisation particulars on a written communication must include:

  • the name of the person or entity who approved the communication;
  • where the person is an individual the full address suburb or locality at which the person can be contacted;
  • where the entity has a principal office or business premises, the full street address, suburb or locality (including the relevant town or city); and
  • on printed material the particulars must be in a font size that can be read by a person without the use of any visual aid.

Authorisations for social media communications

Q.  What type of social media content will require an authorisation during the limitation period?

A.  Social media content will be required to have an authorisation during the limitation period if the matter is a paid advertisement approved by a person or is communicated by, or on behalf of, a person and is intended to affect whether another person provides a survey response, or the content of their response.

Q.  Will social media content (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) on marriage law survey matter require an authorisation if it is communicated for personal purposes?

A.  No.  Social media content will not require an authorisation if it is communicated for personal purposes, for instance only to personal friends.

Q: If I repost an online post with my own commentary on a marriage law survey matter, who should authorised my post: the original poster, the service provider or myself?

A: If you have not reposted the content for personal purposes, you must authorise your post, including the reposted communication and your commentary. The original post is authorised by the original communicator. The provider of the service used to post both messages does not authorise either the original post or your post, as the service provider did not make the decision to communicate the content.

Q. In a social media post such as Facebook or twitter, which has an embedded video, is the authorisation at the end of the video sufficient to authorise the post/tweet?

A. The authorisation is required to be on the tweet or Facebook post itself.

Q.  What is sufficient to meet the authorisation requirement for social media?

A.  Where the authorisation requirements apply to social media content, then it will be sufficient for the matter to include the name of the individual and the town or city in which the individual lives, which may be readily apparent from a person’s social media page. It is sufficient that most Facebook accounts identify the true name of the account owner and their city. The words “authorised by” does not need to be added to a post, rather it is the identity and location that are the requirements.  Where the particulars are too long to be included in the text message or electronic advertisement, the text message or electronic advertisement must include a link by URL to a website where the required particulars can be found.

Q.  Is an authorisation in the bio sufficient on Facebook or Twitter? Or does every tweet or post have to be authorised?

A.  Provided the authorisation particulars can be located on the Twitter or Facebook account then this will be sufficient.  However, an issue could arise where a person re-tweets another person’s message and the details are not included.

Q.  Will social media content on marriage law survey matter from before 14 September 2017 require an authorisation?

A.  Social media content that pre-dates the commencement of the Act will not require an authorisation.  This includes social media content that existed before 14 September 2017 that is shared after this date, unless further sharing is paid for or it is distributed on behalf of a person.

Q. On a Facebook page with a shareable graphic, does the authorisation have to go on the graphic, or can it be in the text accompanying the graphic?

A. The authorisation should be in the text.  If someone shares the graphic, it will depend on whether the person is sharing for a personal purpose.  If the graphic is not being shared for a personal purpose it will be necessary to include the authorisation.

Q.  Snapchat. Are authorisation needed for ads? filters? Can the authorisation appear and then fade?  Can it be at the beginning and not the end?

A.  Authorisation can be included through a URL link

Authorisations for phone calls (including bulk voice calls)

Q. What authorisation particulars must a notifying entity include in a call?

A. The particulars must include:

  • the name of the person who approved the communication;
  • where the person is an individual the town or city in which the individual lives;
  • where the person is not an individual, the name of the entity and the relevant town or city of the entity

Q.  When must the authorisation particulars be disclosed in a call?

A.  The authorising particulars must be disclosed at the beginning of the call.

Q  Is an authorisation required for a call by a volunteer on behalf of an organisation participating in the “yes” or “no” campaign calling from own home?

A.   The volunteer will be required to disclose who they, where they are calling from and, if on behalf of an entity, the name of the entity.  Organisations should ensure that volunteers have a script which complies with the authorisation requirements in section 6 of the Act.  Failure to provide those authorisation particulars in a phone call will be in breach.

Q.  Do personal phone calls by people keen to support and promote one side of the debate require an authorisation?

A.  Communications for personal purposes will not require an authorisation.

Q.  If a call centre is contracted by a campaign to ring people to communicate a marriage law survey matter, who authorised the material?

A.  The campaign has authorised the communication as they have approved the content (the script) of what was communicated by the call centre. The call centre and the provider of the telephone service used by the call centre do not authorise the matter communicated as the call centre and the telephone service provider did not make the decision to communicate the content.

Authorisations for email communications

Q. Is an email from an individual sufficient to communicate the fact that it is authorised by that individual from the organisation? What if there is no physical address in the regular signature but only a post-box?

A. The physical location of an entity (street address etc) that is not an individual is required.

Q. Is an email with a signature block that contains all required authorisation particulars under section 6(5) of the Safeguards Act sufficient?

A.  Yes. As long as the notifying particulars of the marriage law survey matter contained in the email, it is sufficient to contain the authorisation in the signature block.

Q.  Would an email with a link to a website with a large authorisation message be better/sufficient? 

A.  Emails have room to include the full authorisation particulars therefore a link to a website is not sufficient.

Authorisations for websites

Q. What is a sufficient authorisation for a website?  Is an authorisation required on every page, or is a link to a special page specifically authorising the specific communication required?

A. website should include the following particulars:

  • the name of the person who approved the communication;
  • where the person is an individual the town or city in which the individual lives;
  • where the person is not an individual, the name of the entity and the relevant town or city of the entity

Q.  Where should the authorisation appear on the website?

A.  It is not prescribed where the authorisation should appear on that webpage.

Authorisations for speeches

Q. Who is the authorising person if I read a speech on marriage law survey matter that has been drafted by somebody else?

A. Whether you had the opportunity to read over the speech and request edits before approving it, you as the speaker have ‘authorised’ the speech, as you have ultimate control over what you say or will not say and by reading the speech, you are approving it in the form you deliver.

Authorisations for other communications: stickers, fridge magnets, leaflets, flyers, pamphlets, notices or posters

Q.  If a printing company is contracted to print a pamphlet of marriage law survey matter supplied by an individual, does the printer authorise the communication?

A.  As the printer did not make the decision to communicate the content the printer is not required to authorise the communication.  The individual or organisation who contracted the printer has to authorise the communication.

Q. If someone downloads a poster or flyer from campaign site and prints it, does the publication require the printer’s name and address?

A. There is no requirement to include details about the printer.

Q. If a marriage law survey matter is published by a member of a campaign, without consultation with or clearance by the campaign, who is required to authorise the material?

A.  The member has authorised the communication as an individual, not on behalf of the campaign.

Personal communications

Q.  Do personal communications on marriage law survey matter require an authorisation?

A.  No.

Safeguard requirements and protections for individuals

Q. Who can I ask about the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey process?

A.  Inquiries about the Survey can be directed to the Australian Bureau of Statistics at https://marriagesurvey.abs.gov.au/ or via the hotline number, 1800 572 113.

Q. Who do I contact to complain about conduct relating to the Survey?

A.  Further information on complaints about conduct relating to the Survey can be is available here - https://marriagesurvey.abs.gov.au/safeguards.

The Safeguards Act creates a range of offences and civil penalties designed to promote the integrity of survey responses and promote proper and respectful public comment on marriage law survey matters.

Safeguard requirements for broadcasters

Q.  A campaign spokesperson is interviewed by a radio station in relation to marriage law survey matter, and the radio presenter introduces the spokesperson at the start of the interview by including her full name, identifying her as a spokesperson for the campaign, and the location of the campaign headquarters. Has authorisation of the marriage law survey matter communicated been carried out?

A.  By the statement of the radio presenter, the campaign spokesperson has met her obligations to notify particulars under subsection 6(5) of the Safeguards Act and does not need to repeat the particulars herself.

Q.  Where do I make complaints about broadcasters?

A.   Any inquiries or complaints about the obligations placed on broadcasters can be directed to ACMA at http://acma.gov.au/theACMA/About/Corporate/Structure-and-contacts/contact-the-acma-acma-1.  

Injunctions and penalties

Q.  Who can seek an injunction under the Safeguards Act?

A.  Safeguards Act provides an injunction provision similar to the provision at section 383 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. The applicants are the Electoral Commissioner, a notifying entity, or a member, agent or officer of a notifying entity. Notifying entities are organisations with obligations under the authorisation provision of the Act.

Q.  What penalties apply for breaching the Safeguards Act?

A.  The Safeguards Act creates the following penalties:

  • 60 penalty units (up to $12,600) for the following criminal offences:
    • giving and receiving bribes (section 13)
    • officers influencing responses (section 18)
    • threats (section 14)
  • 60 penalty units (up to $12,600) for the following civil penalties:
    • vilification (section 15(1))
    • hindering or interfering (section 16(1))
    • discrimination on basis of donation (section 16(2))
    • publishing misleading matters (section 17(1))
  • 120 penalty units (up to $25,200) for the following civil penalties:
    • authorisation (section 6)

Q.  Are bodies corporate subject to greater fines than individuals?

A.  For the civil penalties in the Safeguards Act that are enforceable under the Regulatory Powers (Standard Provisions) Act 2014 (Regulatory Powers Act), bodies corporate that contravene these provisions are subject to a ‘corporate multiplier’, which is five times the civil penalty amount specified for individuals. For example, a company that contravenes the authorisation provisions is subject to a civil penalty of 600 penalty units (which currently equates to $126,000).