The Liberal and Labor parties have come under fire for “harvesting” constituents’ data by mailing out postal voter registration forms.
In a move slammed by the cross bench, several incumbent MPs from both parties have sent real registration forms as part of their campaign materials and listed their electorate offices as the return addresses.
“They’re being very deceptive,” independent South Australian Senator Rex Patrick told The New Daily.
“They send this registration for a postal vote under the guise of being helpful, but in actual fact what they are doing is harvesting data.
“In that sense, it is deceptive. It is deceptive to the very people they purport to serve.”
This data is typically used by the parties as part of their mailing lists, or to get a sense of potential voters in the electorate.
Senator Patrick said that one of his constituents planned on filling out and returning the forms until he sounded the alarm on social media.
The Greens, who hope to hold the balance of power after the election, have never sent out these forms as part of their campaign material.
“Australian voters can spot dodgy data harvesting dressed up as postal vote applications, and resent it almost as much as unsolicited spam texts,” the party’s democracy spokesperson Larissa Waters told TND.
The Queensland Senator said that when parties act as a “go-between for postal applications”, it only serves to delay the whole process for ordinary people.
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie, meanwhile, took an unusual approach to the issue.
The outspoken has senator never sent out postal voter registration forms as part of her campaign material at previous elections, but decided to take on the major parties this time around by spoofing their tactics with a letter of her own.
“You know the postal vote form a politician sent you in the mail?
Don’t trust it. It’s BS,” the letter opens.
It goes on to explain that the major parties are secretly adding voters’ personal information to their databases.
However, Senator Lambie’s campaign material also includes a postal voter registration form.
“I’m telling you straight up: If you use the reply-paid envelope we’ve included in this letter, you’re sending it to the Jacqui Lambie Network,” the letter reads.
“You’ll help us target our campaign.”
For those who aren’t interested in sharing their info, there are also clear instructions on how to register as a postal voter directly with the AEC.
Senator Lambie added in the letter: “We think you’re adult enough to know the truth.”
The Australian Electoral Commission said it is perfectly legal for parties to send legitimate postal vote registration forms with their campaign material.
In fact, about 28 per cent of all postal vote registrations are submitted by the parties on behalf of voters.
“That being said, it is quicker and easier to apply for a postal vote through the AEC, and voters can do so by going to our website,” an AEC spokesperson told TND.
A government spokesperson defended the practice.
“Under the Electoral Act, political parties can assist voters with postal vote applications. This election is no different,” they told TND.
But Senator Patrick wants the practice outlawed entirely.
‘False and misleading conduct’
“That sort of conduct, in the commercial world, would be considered false and misleading conduct,” he said.
The ABC reported that, in addition to the flyers, both parties have registered generic-looking websites where people can register as postal voters.
The Liberal-run website – www.postal.vote – asks users for their name, date of birth, address, phone number and email address, as well as a security question, such as your first job or eldest child’s middle name.
The website features a gold-and-black colour scheme and a single reference to the Liberal Party in small print.
A government spokesperson said the website is “clearly identified as being both provided by the Liberal Party, and is fully authorised”.
“All applications are provided to the Australian Electoral Commission,” the spokesperson added.
The Labor-run website – www.howtovote.org.au – also asks users for their name, date of birth, address, phone number and email address, before redirecting them to the AEC website, where they need to fill out this information again.
This website contains a reference to the Labor Party in small print and features a prominent red-and-white colour scheme.
The Greens say this is all the more reason to ditch the two major parties on May 21.
“Political engagement and communication are critical for a healthy democracy, but opportunistic hustles like this are precisely why people are losing faith in politics and our institutions, and it’s why they’re abandoning Labor and the Liberals in droves,” Senator Waters said.
“If parties really want to hear from their constituents they should try getting out there and knocking on a few doors for a change.”