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New South Wales

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.

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