political plants
Jim Bonner, 72, retired Liberal party spinner.

With a federal election campaign coming up, you can be sure to hear a lot of “concerned citizens” turning up in media and campaign ads, expressing their worry about a political party’s policy in a sometimes suspiciously specific and on-message way.

Sometimes their interest in politics is not as new as they might imply. Over the next few months, keep an eye out for more concerned citizens (with unannounced affiliations) like this:

The franking credits guy 

The line:

Bill Shorten’s retirement tax is hopeless for us people living in South Australia and a lot of people, my friends included, we rely on our stocks and shares and the dividends we get from them. Bill Shorten hasn’t thought about the people who have worked hard … and now we’re not quite sure what’s going to happen in the future. That’s one of the reasons why I’ll be voting for the federal Liberal government at this election.

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Jim Bonner is a 72-year-old South Coast retiree who is absolutely fuming about Labor’s policy regarding franking credits and self funded retirees. He announced in a recent Georgina Downer campaign video that they had lost his vote. 

The plant: The ad failed to mention what Bonner is retired from. He worked as a press secretary for Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser. And Liberal South Australian premier Dean Brown. And Liberal defence minister Ian McLachlan. And he was a staffer for Liberal cabinet minister Simon Birmingham. Oh, and a media liaison for multiple federal Coalition election campaigns…

The penalty rates guy

The line: 

I am a retail worker. I rely on Sunday penalty rates. I am rostered on every single Sunday. I will now lose $109 a week. I rely on the penalty rates to make ends meet and to pay for my fuel, my rent and to pay for my food. I am gutted. It is such a disgrace … I urge all workers to stand up, join your union and fight back so we can win back our penalty rates.

The penalty rates cut was, seemingly a slam dunk for the Labor Party. The Fair Work Commission, stacked with Liberal appointments was cutting the entitlements of Australia’s most vulnerable workers and the Liberal Party had nothing to say about it. A young man, Trent Hunter, standing beside opposition leader Bill Shorten at a press conference in February 2017 summed it all up perfectly.

The plant: While Trent Hunter did indeed work in retail (Coles in Western Sydney) his extracurricular activities are also perhaps relevant: he was a delegate for mammoth Labor party donors the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, and a Labor Party campaign volunteer who had worked closely with Labor MP Emma Husar. Apart from that — and this is pretty ironic given the Shoppies reputation for cosy deals that screw over their members — the deal he was under actually insulated him from the penalty rate cuts, and he wasn’t likely to lose a cent.

The ‘death tax’ guy

The line:

Former communications consultant Jon Gaul, 80, was among those at the gathering, where he told the hearing the [franking] policy was a ‘death tax’ and ‘blatant, unfair, deliberately targeted discrimination’ that would prevent him from leaving any inheritance for his three children.

The real luck is when a media outlet does the equivocating on one’s behalf. Gaul was portrayed in an February article in The Australian as a kind of unofficial spokesperson for his local community of seaside-dwelling self-funded retirees who were to be unduly affected by Labor’s proposed policy on franking credits. 

The plant: Well, it might be worth looking at an updated version of the story which adds “for the Liberal party and local branch president” after the description of Gaul as a former communications consultant. It also clarifies that he has been president of the Eden-Merimbula Liberal Party branch for three years. The Australian Financial Review also sympathetically reported Gaul’s comments to his local RSL, but mentioned his Liberal party connections. 

The ‘tradie’

The line:

Let me get this right, Mr Shorten wants to go to war with my bank? He wants to go to war with our miners?

In the lead up to the federal election in 2016, a Liberal Party campaign ad featuring Andrew Macrae, a “tradie” with suspiciously flash jewellery, questionable safety processes and a pronounced sympathy for the big banks (which has aged particularly well) attracted ridicule and the hashtag #faketradie.

The plant: As it turns out, Macrae was able to produce a NSW government contractor licence as evidence he was a genuine tradesman. He apparently owned a business called Teamwork Maintenance, although we can’t help but note the business did not have a website, advertising or social media profile. So maybe it should have been #ambiguoustradie?