Comedians could end up in court as the government seeks to crack down on Labor Mediscare-style political campaigning, parliament has heard.
Greens senator Nick McKim gave the warning as he railed against a push to make impersonating a commonwealth agency or service a criminal offence.
The bill is set to sail through the upper house with support of the major parties, despite Senator McKim’s concerns it will damage free speech.
The Tasmanian senator questioned whether satirists like Shaun Micallef and The Chaser team would have to think twice about their jokes or risk up to five years’ jail.
He used the example of a young comedian performing a skit impersonating a government department only to be dragged through the courts by a humourless public servant.
“If you were in her position and this law were in place, would you think twice about telling your jokes or performing your skit?” he asked parliament on Thursday.
“If I were a comedian, I’d probably write a different skit. This is what I mean by a chilling effect.”
While the bill has an exemption for satire, how “genuine” it is could be determined by a court.
“Australian common law has never previously had to deal with defining genuine satire, meaning that satirists will be in the dark as to the potential limits of their jokes until a body of common law has been established,” Senator McKim said.
The measure is part of a suite of changes to electoral laws aimed at stamping out campaigns like Labor’s so-called ‘Mediscare’ during the 2016 election, which used a text message which appeared to come from Medicare.
The government insists the changes will ensure Australians have trust in communications from Commonwealth bodies.
New laws forcing political parties to disclose who is sending them campaign material came into effect earlier in the year.