One of the Greens candidates expected to win a lower house seat at the NSW election claims she’s the victim of a deceptive and potentially illegal push-polling campaign aimed at smearing her reputation.

Voters in Marrickville, in Sydney’s inner west, have told Crikey they were tricked into participating in a phone poll quizzing them about Marrickville Council’s controversial decision to boycott Israeli goods and services.

They said market researchers claimed they were ringing on behalf of Marrickville Council, but the council hasn’t commissioned any such survey.

Crikey understands Marrickville Council will ask federal police to investigate who was behind the phony survey and whether they breached the Telecommunications Act.

Council is also conducting its own investigation into the origins of the survey.

The Greens candidate for Marrickville is the local mayor Fiona Byrne. Last December, the Greens and Labor-dominated council voted 10-2 to cut links with organisations that support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. NSW Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt, the current MP for Marrickville, opposes the boycott — as does her husband Anthony Albanese, who represents the area at a federal level.

Byrne said: “This is absolutely and obviously push polling, but misrepresenting itself. I think that misrepresentation is quite insidious. It’s old-style political tactics and I think people are tired of it.”

Byrne says she first heard about the survey on Friday.

“What I heard was that somebody was doing a survey of behalf of Marrickville City Council. That’s how they were representing themselves. Once they started asking questions, they started talking about me,  not about council. That’s where people started getting quite concerned and confused and started asking,  Where are you from? Who are you representing?”

She said the survey had misled voters by asking whether they would vote for her given she had “instigated” a boycott against Israel.

“I supported a motion that came to council. I as a councillor did not instigate a boycott,” she said.

St Peters resident Mel McCabe, who participated in the survey last Friday evening, says she was furious when she learned she had been deceived by the market researchers.

“It’s made me angry,” she told Crikey. “I’m not aligned with anyone, but I’m really angry that I gave personal insights about my views to give fodder for someone to throw at Fiona. It didn’t sit well.”

McCabe, who describes herself as “apolitical”, knows Byrne personally as their children both attend the same school.

“As far as any leanings towards Fiona’s politics, it’s not about that,” she said. “It’s that my personal time and information were used to slur her and that’s not correct.”

Petersham retiree Gavin Smith, a well-known local environmentalist, told Crikey he had received a call last Tuesday purportedly on behalf of Marrickville City Council.

He said the caller asked whether councils should be involved in foreign affairs.

Byrne says she’s concerned the council’s database of Marrickville residents willing to provide feedback on local issues has been breached.

A Galaxy poll released last week had Byrne winning 44 per cent of the Marrickville primary vote against Tebbutt’s 33 per cent.

This is not the first allegation of push polling to emerge in the campaign. Last month the Liberal Party accused the ALP of dirty tricks for asking Blacktown voters how they would feel about the Liberals cutting 25,000 public sector jobs, outsourcing call centre services to India and being “anti-teachers”.

UPDATE:

In a written statement, a spokeswoman for Marrickville Council said: “Council has been made aware of a phone poll asking residents to comment on the GBDS against Israel, and where the interviewers falsely claim to be from Marrickville Council.
 
To date, four residents have alerted Council to the survey.
 
Council is currently investigating the matter to determine the origins of the survey.”

*For more visit Crikey‘s NSW election page

Peter Fray

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