News State ACT News Dumped Canberra politician James Milligan denies using voter lists to promote business
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Dumped Canberra politician James Milligan denies using voter lists to promote business

Liberal MLA James Milligan returned to the Assembly in March, but it is an email sent during his brief time as a former MLA that may have put him in hot water. Photo: ABC News/Tamara Penikett
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Thank you, farewell, and send me your business — this was the message dumped Liberal MLA James Milligan emailed his constituents two weeks after the election last year.

“I am in the process of re-establishing my business JM Publishing, which specialises in publishing, print, design and business consultancy,” the email said.

“As such if you have any projects or referrals that you think may benefit from affordable, efficient and expert business support, please do not hesitate to put them in touch with JM Publishing.”

Privacy advocates believe the timing and the use of data gathered in Mr Milligan’s role as a politician to then promote his business may have crossed a line.

But he defended the email, saying he did nothing wrong.

Milligan ‘making a buck’

Mr Milligan was elected to the seat of Yerrabi in 2016 and defeated at the 2020 election.

During his term, Mr Milligan would email his constituents to keep them updated on his activities, priorities, and community events.

Greg Tannahill was one of the recipients.

“It was all very reasonable and normal, and I wasn’t too unhappy to be on that list,” he said.

But he said the farewell email from October 30 crossed a line.

James Milligan told supporters he was “re-establishing” his business JM Publishing in an email. Photo: Supplied

“I thought that’s a bit odd because this was a constituent mailing list for his work as an MLA, and this is James Milligan attempting to make a buck off it,” Mr Tannahill said.

“It would have been reasonable to say, ‘I’m leaving office and here’s this link where you can find out what I’m up to now’, and just give you a link and you can go and chase it if you want to.

“[But] It’s the same platform, it was the same list of people … for the purpose of talking to them about his MLA work … [and] that same platform was now flogging a private business.”

Mr Tannahill wrote to Mr Milligan to express his concerns, receiving no response, and posted to social media, but then let the matter rest.

“The matter had been resolved at the ballot box, I thought, so I left it,” he said.

Greg Tannahill has complained to the Information Commissioner about an email Canberra Liberals MLA James Milligan sent after being dumped from the ACT Assembly. Photo: ABC News/Greg Nelson

But the ballot box recently returned Mr Milligan to the Legislative Assembly after MLA Alistair Coe’s retirement prompted a countback.

This prompted Mr Tannahill to lodge a complaint with the Information Commissioner.

“I don’t think our politicians should be using our information that way,” he said.

Milligan says email list didn’t come from electoral roll

A spokesman for Mr Milligan said the mailing list used did not come from the electoral roll, or the Liberal Party, and was not the same list he used for his Assembly duties.

“It was sent to people who had had some contact with Mr Milligan over the years,” the spokesman said.

“The email was a thank you and farewell for contacts after it became clear that Mr Milligan would not be returning to the Assembly, and to inform those contacts what his next steps would be.”

The statement said Mr Milligan had sought advice on the matter of his personal printing operation during the last term from the Assembly ethics adviser.

“He has observed that advice.

“Given all this, Mr Milligan is confident the intent and use of this email was appropriate in the circumstances.”

Portfolio material on the JM Publishing site indicates the company took business from the Canberra Liberals during Mr Milligan’s time as an MLA. Photo: JM Publishing

Mr Tannahill said he couldn’t recall or find evidence of contact with Mr Milligan and believed he ended up on the mailing list after contacting other Liberal politicians.

There is no suggestion Mr Milligan promoted JM Publishing during his time as an MLA, however, product photos on the business’s website indicate the Canberra Liberals were a client of its printing services.

Mr Milligan has declared the business on his MLA register of interests.

Milligan possibly breached privacy principles, expert says

Andrew McAlister, a data ethics specialist from the Australian Privacy Foundation, said the email may have breached the Privacy Act regardless of how Mr Milligan collected the information.

The Act’s 13 Australian Privacy Principles govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal information in Australia.

Principle 7 states that “an organisation must not use or disclose personal information it holds for the purpose of direct marketing unless an exception applies”.

Direct marketing involves using personal information to communicate directly with a person to promote goods and services.

Political parties and politicians are exempt from privacy laws when conducting political activity.

But Mr Milligan’s term ended on October 17, the election result was declared on October 24, and the email was sent on October 30.

“The [Privacy] Act’s very clear, you can’t use information collected for one purpose for another [purpose] without people’s express consent, so just on the face of it, I don’t think this passes the pub test at all,” Mr McAlister said.

“The purposes don’t seem related at all to the original purposes that the information was collected for.

But Mr McAlister said it may not have been a breach of the law because it was a small business.

“You might not be legally liable because there’s a threshold of turnover before the Act applies,” he said.

Mr Tannahill said he wanted to see Mr Milligan acknowledge publicly that the message was inappropriate and to apologise.

He also wants the matter referred to the ACT Legislative Assembly to investigate it as a possible breach of members’ standards.

-ABC