The Liberal candidate for Marrickville has backed Greens’ claims that they have been the victim of a manipulative and potentially illegal push-polling campaign in the marginal seat.

As Crikey first revealed online yesterday, voters in Marrickville in Sydney’s inner-west say they were tricked into participating in a phone poll quizzing them about Marrickville Council’s controversial decision to boycott Israeli goods and services. Market researchers claimed they were ringing on behalf of Marrickville Council, but the council hasn’t commissioned any such survey.

Council is conducting its own investigation into the origins of the survey, but may also ask Federal Police to examine whether the pollsters breached the federal Telecommunications Act.

The Greens candidate for Marrickville is the local mayor and bookies’ favourite 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 on 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?'”

Liberal candidate Rosana Tyler, who opposes Marrickville Council’s boycott, says members of her campaign team had received the call.

“The caller gave their name but not the organisation. They just said they were ringing from a Melbourne-based company. They did say they were ringing on behalf of Marrickville Council. The questions did seem to be manipulative.”

Tyler says the boycott issue is turning “ordinary” voters against the Greens: “There is consternation in Marrickville that this council has just lost the plot.”

Greens spokesman Mark Riboldi says he believes two “push polls” canvassing the boycott issue have been running in the area. In the first, callers identify themselves as employees of polling firm Australian Fieldwork Solutions. He says this poll is “not illegal, but definitely dirty”. In the second, callers claim to be ringing on behalf of Marrickville Council.

St Peters resident Mel McCabe told Crikey she participated in the fake Marrickville Council survey last Friday evening.

“It’s made me angry,” she said. “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.”

She says she was asked whether she would be more or less likely to vote for Byrne given the mayor’s support for the boycott. 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 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.

Tebbutt says she is unaware who was behind the survey.

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

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”.

Peter Fray

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