Yesterday, young women of voting age in the Victorian electorate of Higgins received a personalised letter from their local member. It was a friendly health message providing information about the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil®, and the government’s program which is funded to the tune of $537 million over four years.
But nothing comes from nothing — certainly not in an election year.
The branding of the accompanying pamphlet “HPV? Facts about the Coalition Government’s funding of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil®” indicates that there might be another agenda in play.
In a Q&A section, the pamphlet replicates information from the Department of Health and Ageing’s Gardasil® fact sheet (here), with one notable difference — “Australian government” has been replaced throughout with “Coalition government”.
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The letter is not part of the wider Australian government Gardasil® campaign, according to a Department of Health and Ageing spokesperson, who suggested it is probably part of Peter Costello’s “service to his constituency”.
Costello’s office confirmed this: “Giving women information on what can be done to reduce the risk of death through cervical cancer is part of a member of parliament’s role in the community”.
If so, was it sent to young women represented by other Liberal members? Or how about constituents represented by Labor members?
Costello’s office wasn’t able to help us on this question though they did confirm, wary of the Andrew Laming print entitlements scandal, that yes, the mailout was funded out of the Member for Higgins’ electorate printing entitlements.
One question we probably don’t need to ask is how Costello was able to so effectively target women who are old enough to vote and young enough to be eligible for Gardasil®.
The Coalition government’s electoral database, Feedback, can hook into the electoral roll for constituents’ birth dates. Direct mail campaigns are accepted as part of the political landscape these days, but as Wayne Errington and Peter Van Onselen wrote in 2003, we shouldn’t forget that:
…despite the fact that electoral databases exist for partisan advantage, they are heavily subsidised by taxpayers through MPs’ electoral office allowances, use of AEC data, and through the mysterious Government Members Secretariat.