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Aug 8, 2013

How the parties trick you into handing over personal information

The major parties are fooling people into handing over personal information in the guise of applications for a postal vote. Here's how the ruse works -- and how to avoid it.


You receive an official-looking envelope in the mail containing an application form for a postal vote. You fill it out and use the reply-paid envelope to send the form back to an official-looking address. You’ve just dealt with the Australian Electoral Commission, right?

Wrong. You’ve just dealt with a political party that is harvesting your personal details for its database.

You’ve just told the Liberal Party or the Labor Party your name, date of birth, mobile phone number, email address, enrolled address, postal address, where you were born and who your first employer was, and you’ve given the party your signature.

And you probably don’t even know it — because there’s nothing on that reply-paid envelope to indicate that you’re sending it to a political party (although there will be some advertising material from a candidate contained in the letter).

You’d like to see what personal information political parties have filed on you? You can’t. Parties are exempt under the Privacy Act; you have no right to access your file.

Next, the political party — which might use tracking systems to work out whether you’re likely to vote for it — is supposed to send the form on to the Australian Electoral Commission (it’s an offence under section 197 of the Electoral Act not to). But it might just sit on your form a for a while, perhaps long enough that you never get that postal ballot paper (the Electoral Act prohibits stockpiling, but studies indicate it takes place). And party officials might “correct” details on your application form before sending it on (that’s happened before).

Crikey investigated the postal vote system after receiving many emails from concerned readers in response to Tips and Rumours yesterday. Readers sent us the postal vote forms they’d received from the Liberals and the ALP right around the country — from Labor candidates Kevin Rudd and Cath Bowtell, and from Coalition candidates Bob Baldwin, Teresa Gambaro, Luke Howard, Bill Glasson, Josh Frydenberg, Jag Chugha, Greg Bickley, Sean Armistead and Peter Hendy. And it works; almost 200,000 voters sent the forms back to the political parties at the 2010 federal election.

The letter you receive looks something like this:

And the return, “reply paid” envelope enclosed looks something like this — nothing to indicate this one goes straight to the Liberal Party:

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, who has criticised the postal vote rules previously, told Crikey “there’s got to be a better way of doing this”.

“There needs to be reform … the reason I’m concerned is because I don’t know whether an individual political party should have that level of information. I don’t think the information should be warehoused [by the parties],” he said. Xenophon called for the rules to be changed so that completed forms had to be sent straight to the AEC.

The Rudd Labor government tried to change the rules in 2010, proposing that forms had to be returned to the AEC directly and prohibiting written material (i.e. political advertising) being sent alongside the forms. The Coalition opposed those changes, and watered-down amendments were passed instead.

The AEC has repeatedly asked for the rules to be changed, to no avail. A spokesman told Crikey the matter was one for Parliament. “It is legislated, it’s something that they are allowed to do,” he said. A spokesman for the AEC in NSW urged people with concerns to apply for a postal vote with the AEC directly; “register online through our website, that way you know your postal vote will go through our system,” he said. The link is here.

As for Crikey readers who are concerned at the practices of the major parties when it comes to postal votes and personal information– you have a reply-paid envelope addressed to a major party. Why not use it to tell them what you think?


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38 thoughts on “How the parties trick you into handing over personal information

  1. Venise Alstergren

    An excellent and informative article. I haven’t received mine yet. When I do I will indeed tell them what I think of them.

  2. ianjohnno

    You can add Graham Perrett (ALP Moreton)

  3. lusito

    Just got one from John Alexander (LNP Bennelong). Thanks for pointing this out Crikey. I’m really annoyed at this nonsense.

  4. klewso

    Nick Xenophon reckons there’s got to be a better way to do this? If there was, don’t you reckon they would have schemed it?
    What we need is an “honest” way?

  5. Frances Hanks

    Mine came from Kelly O’Dwyer (Liberal, Higgins). It went straight into the recycle bin.

  6. david creeper

    thanks crikey! saved my day! (bastards are getting smarter).

  7. mark leo

    I got two yesterday (Jacinta Collins Vic Labor Senator and Bruce Billson Lib MP) For what it’s worth the Labor one looked less dodgy her name was on the front cover and the reply paid was to her office. Still, not impressed.

  8. extra

    Of course, you can make the exercise more expensive for them by filling the reply-paid envelope with a sheet or two of roofing lead. Or taping it to a brick.

  9. Raaraa

    Yep, just got one of this yesterday coming from the Libs.

  10. Cathy Alexander

    Update to this story: you’re paying for these letters.

    The rules state that MPs can use their taxpayer-funded printing and communications entitlement to print out and distribute these postal vote application letters – a way of getting taxpayers to fund ‘vote for me’ election material (which is normally not allowed).

    MPs can claim the printing out of applications to up to half the total number of enrolled voters in their electorate.

    Which is why you’re all getting these letters.

    More info here: http://maps.finance.gov.au/entitlements_handbooks/index.html

  11. Andybob

    Great story and update Cathy, thanks.

  12. fractious

    Got two two days ago, so you can add Taylor (Hume) to your list of those who obtain personal information by deception (because that’s exactly what it is). I’ve returned mine with a suitably short, monosyllabic and heartfelt comment.

    Thanks to Cathy and Crikey – this is one reason this country *needs* its indepedent media.

  13. Matt Hardin

    Please add Julie Bishop (Lib Curtin) to the list of pollies who do this.

  14. sparky

    Sean O’Connor, LNP, Sydney. I almost fell for it. Lazy me did anyway.

  15. fractious

    Cathy – I know what I think, but is there an argument that this is obtaining (very personal) information by deception, and that the AEC should take a long hard look at this practice? I’m not holding my breath or anything…

  16. mick

    mine comes direct from tony abbott!

  17. Edward James

    Cathy Alexander
    Posted Thursday, 8 August 2013 at 3:43 pm | PERMALINK
    Yes we all are paying Cathy. It is not joke yet it continues because so many politicians and their supporters want that to happen.
    it will change when we the peoples resolve to have those we give our votes to in trust honour and respect our trust! Edward James 0243419140

  18. Kevin_T

    Sussan Ley at least has her reply paid envelope clearly addressed to Sussan Ley, Member for Farrer. She also has printed “With the compliments of Sussan Ley MP, Member for Farrer, Liberal” at the bottom of the back of the glossy form which appears to be issued by the AEC, although it says you can visit liberal.org.au for further information.

    My personal feelings are that such forms should only be handled by the Australian Electoral Commission once filled out.

    Thank you for the article, it is information that (non party member) voters need to be aware of.

  19. Aidan Wilson

    Came home tonight to find one from Shilpa Hedge, Liberal candidate for Wills, a seat she has less than buckley’s of winning. I might let them know what I think of this behaviour in my paid reply.

  20. AR

    Same from both the local Lib & Sen Scot Burrrr, though at least the latter had a reply paid direct to AEC whereas Lib apparatchik had her own office address on the prepaid envelope.
    Guess which one got the … interesting enclosure.

  21. 64magpies

    You can add Sharon Grierson MP Federal Member for Newcastle.

  22. Neil Summers

    I got one from Alexander (Bennelong) yesterday and until today’s story I didn’t realise what a rort it was. Today I got one from Senator Faulkner. At least he had the grace to have his name on the prepaid envelope unlike the sneaky Liberals. Thanks for a very informative story…I will be chucking all this crap out now.

  23. Serano Bergerac

    Luke Hartsuyker for Cowper sent me one. Initially deceptive, but as soon as I opened it, there was his mug and message. The return address is clearly marked as his.

  24. RoseL

    We received ours from Malcolm Turnbull yesterday with his address on the return envelope. This will just be the beginning of his usual flood of mail to his hapless constituents. I await Lucy’s letter pleading for us to vote for her husband with breathless anticipation.

  25. Aidan Wilson

    I just read the accompanying letter from Abbott that came with mine, and the reference to the postal vote application is not mentioned until a post script! Surely if this is a way of circumventing the restrictions on using public finds for campaigning then the postal vote application should be the ostensible purpose of the letter, rather than an afterthought!

  26. Aton

    Wayne Swan in Lilley sent one to me, although the reply paid envelope is addressed to “Wayne Swann MP, Federal Member for Lilley” There’s also an A4 page bleating about his achievements in the pack

  27. Malcolm Street

    Sounds like an invitation to interfere – I assume the parties can profile likely voting intentions from the information the sucker, er, voter, sends back. They wouldn’t “forget” to pass on to the AEC those that look like will be votes for the other side, would they?

    Aidan – good point.

    We should be screaming blue murder about this.

  28. Venise Alstergren

    Damn! Still haven’t received it. If I had it would have been for the Libs. (I live in a blue ribbon Liberal seat.) Wonder if I told them to stick their letter drops-up where the sun don’t shine once too often?

  29. Johnny1P5

    Both Liberal and Labor sent them here in Maribyrnong and both Bill Shorten’s and Ted Hatzakortzian’s return envelopes addresses seemed as they would be going direct to the AEC. Though the Liberal envelope was addressed to the voter and in an envelope that looked like it came from Australia Post (no window on the envelope), was very similar to those horrid envelopes full of advertising Australia Post send out.

  30. jeff black

    Got mine today in Moreton for both Malcolm Cole (lib) and Graham Perrett (alp). Cole’s was to a magic Postal Vote Centre (PO Box 940 Spring Hill), Perrett to himself.

  31. Belinda Ireland

    I received one from Ian Goodenough, Liberal for Moore.

  32. Anna Smith

    Add one from Lisa Chesters, Labor candidate in Bendigo.

  33. Jutta Galbory

    Kate Ellis, Adelaide, is another offender. Got hers a week ago. My response is in the mail.

  34. Jean

    Let’s not ignore the stupidity and inefficiency part of the equation.
    A few year back I responded to an ALP letter offering to provide me with a postal vote.
    It never arrived.

  35. Andrew Dolt

    Matt Williams, Liberal candidate Hindmarsh. No indication application will go to the Libs. Probably every Lib candidate has sent this application out pretending to be the AEC. I have corrected all the mistakes in his letter and sent it back to him with as much electoral bumph as it was humanly possible to stuff into his reply paid envelope.


    The same thing happened in these last elections, my daughter received the forms asking her if she would like a postal vote, she sent it back saying yes thinking it was from the AEC there was noting on it to say that it was from Coalition, the next thing she knew was she is getting information sent to her from the coalition, needless to say she was very upset that she had been tricked into supplying them her personal information to them.

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