Text messages claiming the independent candidate challenging the traditionally safe Nationals seat of Nicholls, Rob Priestly, has been endorsed by “Dan Andrews’ Labor party” are being sent to voters in the electorate and appear to be authorized by the Coalition junior partner.
Anna Kemp was among several constituents in the rural Victorian seat who received a text Monday evening which read: “You have been selected to participate in a survey by CMS Research about Rob Priestly’s endorsement by Daniel Andrews’ Labor Party.”
Due to ongoing lockdowns, the state premier has been controversial in some rural Victorian seats.
The text message provided a link to the website for CMS (Constituent Management Services), which the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) shows is an entity associated with the National Party of Australia – NSW.
The website says it is authorized by “J. Lundy, Level 2, 107 Pitt St, Sydney, 2000.”
Joe Lundy is the state director of the NSW Nationals, and the address given is the state headquarters.
However, the link provided in the text message has subsequently been disabled.
The Victorian Labor party endorses a screen shot of a text message claiming independent candidate Rob Priestly
Guardian Australia contacted the NSW Nationals for confirmation their director Joe Lundy authorized the website.
A spokesperson for Priestly said their office had lodged a complaint with the AEC over the text message, which was framed as a survey question but which they argued carried a political statement without the required authorization.
Warringah MP Zali Steggall has introduced a “Stop the Lies” bill intending to change the status quo: “currently under Australian law it is perfectly legal to lie in a political ad”.
Priestly told Guardian Australia: “There’s no link between the Labor party and me.”
Priestly, a local businessman, is increasingly seen as a threat to the Coalition in the seat, which has a margin of 20% but is hotly contested in a three-way contest between Nationals candidate Sam Birrell, Liberals candidate Steve Brooks and Priestly. Sitting Nationals MP Damien Drum announced his retirement late last year.
A texted image saying (circled in a screenshot) it is ‘Authorised by J. Lundy’ at the address of the National party’s Victorian headquarters
Priestly says the National Party leader, Peter Walsh, approached him to stand as the National party candidate for the seat, so the Nationals knew he was not linked to Labor. The Nationals have denied Priestly was asked to stand as the candidate.
Priestly says that while he turned down the offer because he didn’t want to run for the National party, “it then did start me thinking about whether or not I wanted to run at all”.
This latest attempt to associate an independent candidate with a major party comes after the AEC was called, in to investigate fake election signs suggesting independent candidates are Greens members.
Priestly calls it a “really poor” campaigning technique that the Nationals have employed “to win at any costs”.
Asked if his vote was already decided, Dustin Kemp said, “particularly now,” after his wife received the text message.
“It’s a horrible way to run a political party if you have to go to the man, not the ball. It’s pretty horrible,” he said.
Kemp said that as a farmer, the most important issue this election was policy around agriculture.
“But increasingly, doing the right thing and having confidence in politics [is important]. ”
Birrell was contacted for comment.