Labor has lodged a complaint with the Australian Electoral Commission over Liberal signage targeting Chinese voters that appears to imitate official AEC communications.
The signage appeared in the key marginal seat of Chisholm – previously held by Julia Banks – which has a high Chinese population.
The corflute uses the same purple colour scheme as official AEC banners and tells readers the “correct” way to vote is to put a “1” next to the Liberal box.
However, the electoral commission has dismissed concerns about the signage, saying it is allowable as long as it carries proper authorisation and is located in an appropriate spot.
Victorian Trades Hall secretary Luke Hilakari said the returning officer at the Burwood East polling booth attempted to remove the sign but was warded off by a Liberal campaigner who threatened to call the police.
Mr Hilakari argued the signage was a “massive rort” targeting voters who did not have English as their first language. The sign is authorised by the state director of the Liberal Party in Victoria, Simon Frost.
A Victorian Liberal Party spokesman acknowledged the similar colour schemes of the two signs.
Asked if the Liberal sign could be seen as official AEC advice, they said: “I can see how that might be some person’s interpretation but not another person’s interpretation.”
The spokesman later claimed that remark was off-the-record and said the party would not comment on the matter.
An AEC spokesman confirmed the organisation had received a complaint from Labor and the AEC had responded. He said the sign in question would be fine as long as it was authorised and not located within six metres of the entrance of a polling place.
Labor had complained the sign breached section breached section 329 of the Electoral Act, which makes it an offence to publish or distribute any electoral material that is “likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote”.
A Labor campaign spokeswoman said: “This is a new low – a pathetic and dirty attempt to deceive voters because the Liberals have no policy to talk about.”
In a tweet, the AEC elaborated and on its explanation and said: “The AEC has no legislative role in regulating the political content of electoral advertising and communication. However, we’re urging people not to be misled by electoral disinformation and to check the source of information to ensure it is reliable, current and safe.”
Liberal operative Sali Miftari – who was photographed carrying the Chisholm signs – told a Labor figure on Twitter: “The only issue here (for you) is that you didn’t think of this first. But – actually – you did!”
Mr Miftari and other Liberals pointed to similarly-styled signage produced by Labor at the Bennelong by-election that instructed voters in Chinese that they must number every box.
Election analyst Kevin Bonham said there was a need for “clearer laws” to define offences related to electoral material under the Electoral Act.
The hotly-contested Melbourne seat of Chisholm is home to a large Chinese population. It was formerly held by Julia Banks, the Liberal MP who defected to become an independent and is now contesting Health Minister Greg Hunt’s seat of Flinders.
Labor is hopeful of winning Chisholm along with a swag of other Liberal seats in Victoria. The Liberal candidate, Gladys Liu, was criticised during the campaign for her previous comments on homosexuality and gender issues.
By Michael Koziol
Sydney Morning Herald