Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has described the final days of the South Australian election campaign as “filthy” and “nasty” after lodging a second complaint over what he describes as misleading advertising targeting his team.
Electoral Commission South Australia has launched an investigation after Senator Xenophon complained about so-called “robocalls”, authorised by SA Unions, which claimed he and his team wanted to cut penalty rates for nurses.
“If you end up in a hospital at 3am, you want to know that the nurse on duty is getting paid properly. Don’t give your vote to somebody who wants to cut your pay,” the automated message warns.
The so-called robocall is a common fixture in US election campaigns, and the technology has been used by both sides of politics in Australia since it was introduced by former prime minister John Howard during the 2004 election.
South Australian electoral commissioner Kay Mousley said on Tuesday the commission had sought advice about the use of robocalls and whether they could breach electoral laws.
“We are investigating that at the moment because I think this technology wasn’t around when the act was written in 1985, so we’re getting advice on that to see if it’s a breach of the act or not,” Ms Mousley said.
But Senator Xenophon, who described the robocall message as a “blatant lie”, said he disagreed with the commissioner’s interpretation.
“It’s an electronic form of communication,” he said.
“This strengthens the need for stronger truth in advertising laws but I just want the existing laws to be enforced and I find the commissioner’s interpretation to be curious.”
“Time is of the essence. This is a filthy, nasty campaign and it’s completely misleading.”
The high-profile politician has said his policy of cutting penalty rates would apply only to the private sector for small businesses, and would not apply to nursing.
The latest complaint comes after Ms Mousley apologised on Monday for a crucial omission in a ruling about Labor campaign material, which had also targeted Senator Xenophon’s team.
An announcement about the ruling said Labor had breached the Electoral Act in relation to a poster attacking Senator Xenophon’s X-Team candidates over workers’ penalty rates.
But Ms Mousley later apologised, saying the ALP poster over which the complaint was made was, in fact, not misleading and the statement in which she announced her determination included an error.