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‘I can see the impact of the work that we've done’ in the federal election

Whilst electoral legal work can come with a myriad of challenges, it can also be incredibly rewarding, said this partner.

user iconLauren Croft 11 July 2022 Politics
Kiera Peacock
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Kiera Peacock is a partner at Marque Lawyers – and was heavily involved in legal work pertaining to the recent Federal election. Speaking recently on the Lawyers Weekly Show, Ms Peacock reflected on the issues and challenges inherent with doing such legal work and how she got involved in it.

Marque Lawyers has always been involved in the electoral side of government legal work – and before the 2019 election, began working with independents.

“We ended up representing an independent down in Kooyong, Oliver Yates, who brought a challenge to some signs which were put up during the last election by the Liberal Party in Victoria, which looked a lot like AEC signage and told people that the correct way to vote was to put one next to Liberal. We challenged that in The Court of Disputed Returns and managed to get a successful finding that the signs were illegal,” Ms Peacock said.


“I've also then been involved with Climate 200, which was an organisation set up to help level the playing field in federal politics by collecting donations from across the country to help fund independent candidates who had a chance of winning and who were proactive on issues of science-based action on climate change, integrity and transparency in politics and gender equity.”

In terms of what legal work leading up to the election actually is, Ms Peacock said it can be a broad mix of a number of different types of legal work – including court and dispute work, law in the commercial context and the public law field, as well as dealing with various compliance issues.

“Our electoral laws are not easy to navigate. They can have a bit of grey area in them at times, which makes it really difficult for people who are trying to comply. So that's one aspect of the work that I was doing. There's also an aspect of things that just pop up in the hustle and bustle of the political world. So, there's defamation, there's issues with obtaining permits,” she added.

“So, all these kinds of issues from all different aspects of law still arise in the context of elections, IP, copyright, all those kinds of things. So, within the firm, I also have a lot of help from people with advising clients on those matters.”

Lawyers working in this space will face a number of challenges in regards to the legislation governing the elections – with the Commonwealth Electoral Act being from 1918 and dating back to old English laws.

“Translating that to how politics plays out in the current environment, where you've got social media overrides boundaries, and particularly geographical boundaries, you have all sorts of different types of advertising and conduct, which was never envisioned back when this Electoral Act was created,” Ms Peacock explained.

“So, it effectively needs to be rewritten, but that's a difficult task to undertake. And it's one where you're dealing with politics and a parliament that obviously has quite an interest in how particular laws apply to people. It can be hard to imagine how a redraft might occur. There have been some significant amendments at various times, and no doubt there's a renewed interest in issues like transparency of donations and truth in political advertising, or stopping of lies in political advertising, which may well get a new lease of life in this new parliament.”

In the leadup to the election, lawyers working in this space also had to be increasingly proactive and anticipate different hurdles that may have popped up, added Ms Peacock.

“Ultimately, things do happen within the space of a couple of hours. And so, there is an element of being reactive to it, but it was interesting to see, I think I have a particular interest in the misleading or deceptive advertising laws because of my involvement in that case. And I've also provided some assistance on the bill, which Zali Steggall of Warringah prepared in the last parliament, which is seeking to broaden the net about what type of conduct might be misleading or deceptive in the context of political advertising,” she said.

“And so, I was particularly monitoring that development throughout the election campaign, and we saw some quite positive developments in the sense of the Australian Electoral Commission taking a more proactive stance to stamp out that kind of conduct, which is problematic in the way that it undermines people's faith in political actors and in the electoral system.”

Despite these challenges, Ms Peacock said she is still “politically interested” and is keen to stay within this area of law.

“I can see the impact of the work that we've done. What I think really excites me about the future is that I think the outcome in this election was a change in our political system and in people's views of what their vote means and what their vote can achieve. I think particularly amongst younger generations, for a long time, there was a thought that your vote didn't matter and that it didn't matter who you voted for, it wouldn't change the outcome. And the outcome of this election really turned that on its head and showed people that there is power in the vote and that safe seats can become marginal and that safe seats can swing to our side,” she said.

“And I think the outcome of that, is that people will be even more engaged going forward because once you realise the power of that vote and what it can achieve, then you have a much greater interest in what you're doing and what the outcome of that is. So, I'm really excited to see how that plays out in the coming election and how much more engaged particularly young people might be in that political process.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Kiera Peacock, click below:

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