Ex-Lib boss admits election ad omission


A former Victorian Liberal Party boss has conceded several political advertisements in a newspaper during the 2022 federal election fell foul of electoral advertising laws.

The Australian Electoral Commission sued former Victorian Liberals director Sam McQuestin over four advertisements placed in the Geelong Advertiser before the 2022 federal election.

The commission alleged Mr McQuestin, whose full name is Charles David McQuestin, breached electoral laws by not properly declaring the ads came from him and the Liberal Party.

One of the newspaper ads was a full-page attack on sitting Labor MP Libby Coker, while another was a full-page portrait of Liberal candidate for Corangamite Stephanie Asher along with a how-to-vote card.

Both paid political advertisements contained authorisations in small writing towards the bottom of the page.

Political advertising laws in Australia require authorisations to be made prominently, legibly and in contrasting text.

The former party boss did not dispute the allegations, his barrister Sam Duggan told the Federal Court on Tuesday.

“We accept it was not legible, not prominent, not contrasting,” Mr Duggan said.

Mr McQuestin was not in court for Tuesday’s hearing.

The AEC’s barrister Caryn van Proctor urged Justice Michael O’Bryan to impose the maximum penalty on Mr McQuestin who is backed by the Liberal Party.

“This is a case where general deterrence is the overarching consideration,” Ms van Proctor said.

“This is a big political party with a lot of money.”

She labelled the conduct as an “intentional act”, telling the court Mr McQuestin and the party had opportunities to catch the error and fix it after the first ad was published.

“It wasn’t an intentional breach of the law, but it was an intentional act,” she said.

“(What they did) is not free or fair, it doesn’t inform the public.

“The consequences of the contravention are very wide ranging in terms of how (the public) received the information.”

Mr Duggan suggested an error in the approval process but there was no evidence to suggest any intention to commit the act.

He urged the judge to make a finding against Mr McQuestin rather than imposing the maximum penalty as a form of deterrence.

“You only need to impose a penalty that is reasonably necessary to deter the conduct in future,” he said.

“We maintain the making of declarations itself is a significant matter regarding the individual and his reputation no matter if the Liberal Party is standing behind him.

“Reputational damage done to a political party for contravening a law is a major one.”

Mr McQuestin, who previously served as director of the Tasmania Liberals, stepped down as the head of the Victorian branch after the coalition’s loss at the 2022 state election.

Justice O’Bryan will reserve his judgment to a later date.