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Mar 14, 2011

Dirty tricks in Marrickville campaign: illegal push-polling claims

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.


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”.


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


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37 thoughts on “Dirty tricks in Marrickville campaign: illegal push-polling claims

  1. vealmince

    Is that the best you could do? A friend of Fiona Byrne’s and a local greenie say Labor’s up to sneaky tricks against Byrne by asking questions about a council resolution that Byrne voted for and now refuses to defend in public.

    Find a real story and a credible source and let’s talk.

  2. Sobai

    @vealmince Actually pretending to be the local council and push polling people is pretty serious…if you don’t think so I think you have a disturbing vision of democracy.

  3. New Cassandra

    Push polling implies the setting of questions designed to elicit a pre-desired answer, and so influence the questionee.
    The difference between instigating a motion to boycott and supporting the motion is pretty minor. – and Byrne’s opinion on the issue has not been in any way misrepresented.
    Pretty desperate for a story today Crikey ?

  4. Matthew Knott

    Hi @vealmince: no one in the story accuses Labor of anything. Hopefully the council/police investigations will get to the bottom of who ran the survey if us journos don’t get there first.

  5. Matthew Knott

    @New Cassandra. As the article says, The Greens say they are the victims of push polling. I think the most interesting and important thing is that the pollsters lied about who they were.

  6. vealmince

    @sobai Sure it is. If they could find anyone who isn’t mates with Fiona Byrne who says the poll claimed to represent the council, I might believe it.

  7. Sean

    Veal mince is pretty politically incorrect as well, n’est-ce pas?


  8. Shermozle

    We got this call on Saturday. I’ll follow up with the other half, who took the call, to see if they claimed to be Marrickville Council.

    It definitely smelt like push polling though. I bet there was no mention of the fact that the Labor Councillors all supported the boycott.

  9. innerwestie

    As an inner west voter (and no vealmince, I don’t have a connection with/to Fiona Byrne and the Greens), I’d already received one call from a research group about my voting intentions in the upcoming election so was not suspicious when I received another call from a research group also apparently asking for my views. It was only towards the end of the ‘research’ that the questioner’s anti-Fiona Byrne and pro-Israel bias really became clear, and after the phone call was hurriedly concluded by the caller I felt both angry and naive that I hadn’t challenged them on the Catch-22 type of questions they were asking and on whose behalf they were actually conducting the research.

    I don’t recall her actually claiming she represented Marrickville Council, but the caller distinctly stated she was conducting research about Marrickville Council in relation to the election and voter intent, with the implication it was initiated by the Council. I still feel angry and embarrassed to have been duped by these insidious tricksters into giving them oxygen.

    Politics is grubby enough without this kind of propagandist push-polling; I hope you are able to expose the culprits.

  10. Shermozle

    Okay heard back from the other half. She thinks they said “about” not “for” Marrickville Council. So that would mean they weren’t misrepresenting who the poll was for, but it’s still well and truly push polling.


    beats the calls I getting from India ATM about cheap accommodation

  12. vealmince

    OK, the story so far:

    Publicity-fond mayor and election candidate makes claims of push polling and misrepresentation. Doesn’t name names but hints at likely source.

    As evidence of push polling, Cr Byrne claims survey said she instigated anti-Israel boycott, which is technically untrue. (She voted for it and confirmed her support for it on subsequent occasions.)

    As evidence of misrepresentation, Byrne says survey claimed to be commissioned by Marrickville Council.

    Byrne tells Crikey the Council is investigating and she will refer the matter to Federal Police.

    Byrne proffers friends and supporters to Crikey as proof of story. One claims push polling and misrepresentation. A second only confirms having received the call.

    In a statement, Council confirms it “has been made aware” (passive voice, no attribution) of polls and misrepresentation.

    Council says four residents have “alerted” it to the survey. It does not say four residents made claims of push polling or misrepresentation in the survey. Nor does it say if two of these four residents were the same people quoted in the story or if a third ‘resident’ was Byrne herself.

    Council confirms it is investigating the matter. No mention of Federal Police.

    Actual residents who received the call confirm push poll-style questions but not misrepresentation.

    To summarise, the only accusation that might stick is that the poll used the word “instigated” instead of “voted for” or “supported” and the only proof you have of that is Fiona Byrne and one of her friends.

    You’ve been had, Crikey.

  13. Joanna

    I haven’t received push polling, but one of my crazier relatives got herself into a terrible state after some unnamed person convinced her that the good burghers of Marrickville were about to elect an dyed-in-the-wool anti-Semite, all on the basis of a Council vote. I simply pointed out to her that the motion was passed 10/2 with all the ALP Councillors supporting it, because Marrickville, Leichhardt et al have always passed motions that have sfa to do with council rates and public libraries.

    I have seen Fiona Byrne’s posters vanish from power poles around my area and they are now being replaced with generic Greens ones. My daughter was told they have been surreptitiously removed by some of her opponents and Byrne has run out of standard posters. No Carmel Tebbutt posters have suffered the same fate.

    BTW the Liberal candidate, Rosana Tyler, has taken to using Liberal Party colours and graphic style when she advertises her legal services in local papers. That’s a bit off I think.

  14. Climate Change

    Push Polling should be made illegal, but hard to police. If there was a register of all phone polls, that may solve it.

    anyway came across this email today, sent by an unhappy person to Canberra.

    You and all your Labor members are an absolute disgrace.
    Your wasteful incoherent spending is destroying our beautiful country.
    You have left us with no reserves. The Futures Fund was established by a responsible and wise Liberal Government
    endeavouring to make our Country sustainable in times of disaster.
    If your intention was to destroy Australia and bring her to her knees, then ‘Congratulations’ you are doing a bloody marvellous job.

    Let’s look at your policy record so far:
    1. Reneged on pre-election policies after the election.
    2. Home Insulation disaster – Not finalised and Billions wasted.
    3. The B.E.R. so called revolution disaster – Billions wasted with some schools worse off.
    4. Laptops in every school. HO HUM!!!
    5. Money for stimulus to avert the recession that was never going to happen, the majority being spent
    on goods from overseas – bolstering other countries.
    6. Money meant to stimulate the Australian economy of $2,000 per person sent to Australians overseas,
    Working Visa Students who had paid a small amount of tax and returned to their own countries & best of all, Cadavers.
    Wonderful – more money wasted.
    7. Toyota company – Millions of dollars they did not even want and the program a flop!!!
    8. N.B.N. that will cost Australian Taxpayers about $50,000,000,000.00 of wasted dollars for a technology that will be outdated well before
    completion. The Queensland floods are estimated at 10 -12,000,000,000.00 which gives an idea of what you are proposing.
    9. Housing refugees in five star accommodation when you have not had the guts to go back to John Howard’s
    policy of stopping the illegal boats. Where are our own homeless people? – THEY SLEEP ON THE STREETS AND GO
    10. Determination to open a refugee camp in East Timor (which is not wanted by the Timorese people)
    when there is a suitable camp in Nauru. More Millions wasted if you go ahead.
    11. Policy for Asylum seekers is an absolute shambles and totally irresponsible. How many terrorists have infiltrated our country?
    12. Asylum seekers have right of appeal in the courts. What is going on? They should have no rights – they jumped the queue illegally.
    The whole programme is a debacle like everything else you touch.
    13. Australians desperately needing Housing watching homes intended for them being given to illegal refugees.
    14. Fuel Watch – a non event
    15. Grocery Watch – a Non Event
    16. Green Loans – a fiasco
    17. Mining Tax – a debacle
    18. Climate Change – a debacle
    19. Carbon Tax – confusion
    20. Solar rebate – reneged on and cut short.
    21. Promise to stop Japan from Whaling – a non event.
    22. Garrett denying a Dam to be built in Queensland.
    23. Giving $500 million dollars to Indonesia for another disastrous B.E.R. AND
    24. Finally, adding insult to injury condescendingly offering flood victims a paltry $1 million dollars which was an insult.
    Now Let’s look at what you have achieved:

    1. We now have a larger debt than the Unites States Of America, costing taxpayers millions of wasted dollars every day in interest.
    Another bloody fiasco.

    How much longer can Australians be expected to pay the ultimate price for your massive waste?

    The sooner you are out of office the better chance we have of recovery.
    God Save Australia AND THE ONLY WAY TO DO THIS IS TO GET RID OF the Labour/Green Government.

  15. Syd Walker

    I suspect a genuine poll in Marrickville on the issue of support for the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign, which is directed against the nuclear-armed, serial aggressor, apartheid-style Israeli State, would establish resounding support for the Council’s position, which has been couragous and very much to be commended.

    And yes, in this case, it’s very important to establish who did this bodgy ‘polling’. If the ALP wasn’t responsible, who was? We should be told who is playing dirty tricks to subvert our electoral process for the benefit of a sectarian lobby that is essentially the instrument of a far-away nation.

  16. dexter bland

    I received that call, can confirm they said it was “about Marrickville City Council”, not from them, they only identified themselves with an acronym I assumed was a market research group. I actually thought it was genuine, possibly the ALP trying to work out if it was an issue they should take a stronger stand on, or even the Libs deciding whether they should distribute their preferences to ALP, I even briefly entertained the thought it was the Greens wondering whether the policy was going to cost them the seat and should back down.

    One that could have been deemed a leading question went somethimg like :

    I agree/disagree/strongly etc that the following should be council responsibilities:

    a) recycling
    b) residential planning

    f) foreign affairs

    Now who in their right mind would agree with that?! It clearly exposes the flaws in the Council’s position (as if it weren’t bleeding obvious) , but I’m surprised to learn its illegal. Who judges the intent of these things? If they had changed “foreign affairs”to “taking a stand on human rights to reflect our community’s concerns” to mimic the Greens own disingenuous spin, then there would be nothing unseemly about it at all. Mischievous perhaps, but illegal, to call a spade a spade?

    From memory only one question referred directly to Fiona Byrne, the last. I don’t recall any claim of her “instigating” anything but it did ask whether her position on the issue would make me more or less likely to vote for her.

  17. Shermozle

    @vealmince To meet my definition of push polling, the results of this survey will never be publicised. That is, the whole purpose of push polling is to influence the pollees, not find out the genuine views of the electorate.

    As for not naming names, I think that’s just Fiona waiting until she’s sure who commissioned it. It’s almost certainly the ALP. The Tories wouldn’t be wasting resources on an electorate where they’re lucky to get their deposit back.

    And just a reminder folks: the ALP Councillors all voted for the same “contentious” resolution.

  18. Russell

    The last Matthew Knott story I read about the Greens in Balmain (last friday) quoted sources “who preferred to remain anonymous” to support of some Greens friendly, anti-Labor position in Balmain. C’on Crikey, you are letting your subscribers down by running material of that type. Its not journalism of any description.

  19. New Cassandra

    Don’t worry Climate Change – you are not invisible.

    Good post – but you are casting pearls to swine here.

    me? – I’m just waiting for my subscription to expire.

  20. Michael Rogers

    Last time I had a call from a “Government” pollster (“the government would like to know your opinion on….”), I first asked the name of the official who had authorised or commissioned the poll and their department and then to whom I was speaking and what was their role or function. ‘Click!’ That was the end of that.

  21. Kevin Herbert

    I reckon the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies are behind this push polling schemozzle.

    And as is par for the course in the Board’s public policy interventions of say, the past 44 years,
    they’ve got it totally wrong.

    They should stick to the things they’re good at.

    PS: they are good at some things I understand, but not public/foreign policy related matters.

  22. Sandgroper

    Why don’t the Greens actually debate the ISSUE rather than kick up a lot of dust about the tactics? Perhaps their ridiculous stance is too embarrassing?

  23. Ravenred

    Climatechange, the email you quote is wrong on so many levels with it’s laundry-list of complaints that they’re not even worth addressing individually.

    Having said that, I agree uncritically with your first point, although the policing of same would be problematic.

  24. vealmince

    Push polling is not illegal; misrepresentation is illegal. But there is no proof of misrepresentation in this story, just bad journalism.

    The only people who have claimed misrepresentation are Fiona Byrne and one of her friends. Even the friend’s testimony is suspect. McCabe “was furious when she learned she had been deceived by the market researchers”. From whom did she learn this? From Fiona Byrne? From Matthew Knott?

    One or two people may have mistakenly inferred the poll was commissioned by Marrickville Council. Everyone else who received the call agreed it was “about” Marrickville Council, not by the Council.

    Sandgroper has it right: this is the Greens flinging around unfounded accusations about shady tactics because they don’t want to talk about the issue. And they’ve enlisted a fellow-traveller Crikey hack to do their dirty work.

  25. Mark Riboldi

    @Sandrgoper push-polling is a dirty political trick, and should be exposed where it occurs.

    There are two polls in question. One run by an actual ‘research’ company, that actually identifies itself. This is a straight push poll. Not illegal, but definitely dirty.

    The second, which is a bit harder to trace, because of the reported deception involved, is reportedly from people pretending to be Marrickville Council. If that’s true, it is a crime.

    Dirty tricks and tactics should be exposed for what they are.

    The Greens don’t shy away from debating the issues, any search through the media or our website will attest to that, but we will continue to expose dirty tricks where they occur.

    Mark Riboldi
    The Greens NSW

  26. Russell

    I received a link to this Crikey story today from Fiona’s Byrnes campaign office with chunks of the story repeated. If a political party ever did that to something I had written, I would be deeply ashamed and annoyed. Crikey… please.. We are your subscribers. We don’t pay for spin.

  27. Syd Walker

    @ Russell

    I trust you make a similar complaint to News Corp and the ABC every time a politician links to an article on their websites?

  28. Matthew Knott


    You are obviously on a one-man crusade and have convinced yourself — because you don’t know anyone who has received the call — that there is nothing to the story.

    That doesn’t bother me. And call me hack. But don’t presume to know anything about me, my political beliefs or the way I vote. I am an independent journalist interested in breaking news (did you notice smh.com.au is running an almost identical version to my story today?).

    I don’t live in Marrickville and didn’t receive the call: I am simply reporting Byrne’s allegations and those who say they received it.

    You’ll also be interested to know in today’s daily newsletter I have updated the story with comment from Rosana Tyler, the Liberal candidate and boycott opponent, who says her campaign team members received the same call supposedly from Marrickville Council.

    Is she part of a consipracy too?

  29. Matthew Knott

    @Russell. Are you serious? I received the same press release: it does not contain chunks of my story; it is almost entirely quotes from Byrne. Similar, yes, to what she told me on the phone yesterday but why should this surprise?

    March 15

    Greens candidate for Marrickville Fiona Byrne condemned reports of push-polling in the Marrickville area as a dirty-trick which should have no place in politics.

    SMH: http://www.smh.com.au/national/state-election-2011/council-investigates-fake-phone-surveys-20110315-1buuu.html

    “Push polling is a manipulative dirty trick, an old style political tactic and people are sick of it,” Ms Byrne said.

    “The Greens support is growing because we campaign positively on issues that matter to people, rather than resort to misrepresentation.

    “People are looking for change in New South Wales, and that includes an end to old-style dirty tricks.

    “We’ve had reports of two push-polls occurring. One of which claims to be from Marrickville Council.

    “Pretending to be from Marrickville Council is insidious. Council will be reporting the matter to the Police to see if a crime has been committed.

    “Regardless of who is responsible, the Greens’ response will be to continue campaigning positively on local issues,” Ms Byrne said.

  30. dexter bland

    If they say its about Marrickville “City” Council, then its the same poll. That’s not its name (as anyone knows who lives in the area) its just plain old Marrickville Council. The people who polled me distinctly said its ABOUT (not from) Marrickville City Council.

    Its a non-issue, back to the “local” issues, then Fiona? Ah yes, starting with Israel…

  31. FunkyJ

    @ Matthew Knott
    Of course vealmince thinks Rosana Tyler is part of the conspiracy.

    Obviously not doing a good job of governing the State means nothing to the outcome of the election – it’s only a Green / Liberal / Crikey conspiracy that could lose the election for them

  32. frey

    I also received the call on Friday night, and can confirm that they said it was “about Marrickville City Council”.

    I was concerned when I stated wasn’t interested in the survey the caller tried to encourage me by talking about ‘your’ council, particularly because while I live inthe Marricville electorate, I don’t live in the Marrickville Council area.

    Although this should allay Byrne’s concern that “the council’s database of Marrickville residents willing to provide feedback on local issues has been breached” as I could never have been on any such database.

  33. jaymark

    Marrickville? Marrickville’s a hole. We should be discussing locations that matter.

    Here is undoctored evidence of Marrickville’s hole-like nature:

    Boycott Marrickville until they install a waterslide park or at least something special.

  34. andrew11121

    Why are all fingers seemingly pointed at another political party?

    Wouldn’t a Pro-Israel lobby group be a much more likely culprit?

  35. vealmince

    Matthew, I don’t care how you vote, it seems like you’re pushing something. “Candidate claims dirty tricks” is not news. “Candidate provides evidence of dirty tricks” is news. You don’t have that evidence.

    You didn’t receive the call. Fiona Bryne didn’t receive the call. Rosana Tyler didn’t receive the call. Reporting what someone else told you is hearsay, not evidence.

    Byrne’s friend Mel McCabe received the call. From what you’ve reported in the story, she did not say the caller claimed to be from Marrickville Council. She only said someone told her afterwards that the call wasn’t from Marrickville Council and she was angry at having been tricked. Who was that person? You? Fiona Byrne? You constructed the sentence in a way that obscured that information.

    Everyone else who received the call, including people I have spoken to and people who commented on Crikey, said the call was “about” the Council not “commissioned by” the Council.

    Yet you keep perpetuating Byrne’s claims of misrepresentation and illegality, despite the fact she has no evidence for this claim. Or if she has, she hasn’t provided it to you or anyone else.

    If the story were true, and you were a fiercely independent investigative journalist, you would have found an independent person to say on the record, “I received the call and they definitely said they were from [or acting on behalf of] the Council”. But you haven’t. All you have a is a lot of hearsay from not-disinterested parties, which you have repeated. That’s not journalism.

  36. dexter bland

    Has she referred it to the police yet? Carmel Tebbutt has denied having anything to do with it. It shouldn’t be too difficult for the police to find out since they know the market research agency. It couldn’t be that its the the Greens up to the dirty tricks – flinging accusations, and not following through with trying to substantiate them?

  37. Russell

    The Herald picked up the story from Crikey, the ABC local news ran it, even the Inner West Courier (another “fiercely independent” journalistic outfit) ran it. Matthew has done his job, Let the boy get some rest now, Vealmince. His Friday “investigation” quoting a source “who preferred to to remain anonymous” in Balmain went nowhere. But push polling is sexier.

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