Judge John Robertson will keep a watchful eye on the 2020 council elections.
Judge John Robertson will keep a watchful eye on the 2020 council elections.

‘Fake news’: Watchdog to keep close eye on council hopefuls

THE conduct of candidates standing for Southern Downs 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.

“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 36 candidates ran for either councillor or mayor for the Southern Downs Regional Council in the 2016 Queensland local government elections.

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

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

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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