A provocative political billboard advertisement atop a truck is turning heads in Canberra with its brazen claim echoing the Morrison Government’s accusation that Labor is China’s preferred party for the upcoming election.
The ad shows a smiling Chinese President Xi casting his vote, accompanied by the headline, “Vote Labor”.
While the truck looks similar to the one the Liberal Party has wheeled around Canberra in previous campaigns, this ad is authorised by Matthew Sheahan and Advance Australia, a right-wing lobby group that has benefited from wealthy donors and sought to counter left-wing activist group GetUp.
Advance Australia has been accused of being a front for the Liberal Party in much the same way there have been claims that GetUp is linked to the ALP.
But while GetUp has been cleared of any association with Labor, Advance Australia’s former national director was former Liberal staffer Gerard Benedet, who was succeeded by Liz Storer, a former adviser to ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, who is a regular commentator on Sky News.
The ad follows the revelation that ASIO had foiled a Chinese attempt to influence the federal election. Although the spy agency had not provided details or identified which party had been targeted, media reports subsequently revealed that the plot involved attempting to bankroll Labor candidates in NSW.
Both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Defence Minister Peter Dutton seized on the reports, claiming in Parliament that China wanted Labor to win.
Opposition spokesperson Richard Marles was even accused of being a “Manchurian candidate”.
But the blatant nature of the ad has some people wondering if it is within the guidelines.
The Australian Electoral Commission said it was aware of the ad and had received a small number of queries about it, but it had not breached any standards or laws.
An AEC spokesperson said that, for the most part, electoral laws did not restrict the placement, timing or content of political advertisements.
“There is freedom of political communication and it is the voter’s role to stop and consider what they see this federal election,” the spokesperson said.
“We are encouraging people on our channels to do just this and will be running an advertising campaign once the election is announced that reinforces that role for the voter.”
The spokesperson said electoral laws did require an authorisation statement so that people could identify the author, and the advertisement did appear to have the appropriate authorisation on it.
ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher called it base politics.
“I think Canberrans are smarter than this sort of base-level politics from a fringe group attempting to misrepresent Labor’s policies,” she said.
“If this group wants to have a proper debate on national security, then let’s have it, but driving a misleading truck around Canberra is nothing more than a baseless lie from a political group that lacks credibility.”
The Morrison Government has continued to press national security and defence as key election issues, particularly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Labor insists that it and the government are on the same page when it comes to China and that these matters should be dealt with in a bi-partisan way.