POLITICAL campaigning in marginal bayside seats is starting to heat up ahead of November’s state election with train services on the Frankston line again on track to be a major bone of contention between both major political parties.
A slick Liberal Party website that vows to tell “the truth about how the Frankston line is being improved” is the latest weapon in the political battle between both major parties in the marginal bayside ‘sandbelt’ seats.
Domain name registration records show the name www.frankstonline.com.au was registered by ‘the Liberal Party of Australia Victorian Division’ last month before the website went live online.
The Times can reveal the Victorian Electoral Commission is investigating the use of local Labor candidate names as Google AdWords key words to direct voters to the frankstonline.com.au site.
Typing the name of Labor’s candidate for Carrum ‘Sonya Kilkenny’ into Google’s search engine serves up a prominent Google ad which states: “Sonya Kilkenny – Labor – Get the facts on public transport” alongside a link to the Liberal Party’s website.
Google searches for Labor candidate for Mordialloc, Tim Richardson, also direct readers to the Libs’ website.
Labor’s new candidate for Frankston, firefighter Paul Edbrooke, anointed last Thursday to replace previous candidate Helen Constas, has not had his name used as a Google AdWords term to advertise the frankstonline.com.au website yet.
The ‘Frankston Line Facts’ site claims “real progress” is being made on improving train services on the Frankston line “after Labor’s neglect” while in government.
Global search giant Google offers advertisers, including political parties, a “cost-per-click” service to book online advertising based on specific keywords chosen by the advertiser.
Google recommends advertisers target ads by using “specific phrases”.
The Liberal Party is not listed on the frankstonline.com.au website but the site is compliant with VEC guidelines on political advertising.
The site is “authorised by Damien Mantach, 104 Exhibition Street, Melbourne”. Mr Mantach is the state director of the Liberal Party’s Victorian division and the Exhibition St address listed on the ‘Frankston Line Facts’ website is the address of the party’s Melbourne headquarters.
VEC communication, education and research manager Sue Lang declined to confirm whether the Google AdWords keywords using Labor candidates’ names breached electoral advertising guidelines.
“All I’m prepared to say is that we are conducting enquiries,” she said.
Whoever selected the Google AdWords ‘Tim Richardson’ and ‘Sonya Kilkenny’ to direct online traffic to the Liberal Party owned frankstonline.com.au site may be exploiting a failure of VEC electoral campaigning guidelines to effectively police online advertising.
Political print and TV ads must identify who has authorised the message.
A Victorian parliamentary inquiry is finalising a report on “the impact of social media on Victorian elections and Victoria’s electoral administration”.
The inquiry’s terms of reference included a look at “whether online electoral advertising, such as Google Adwords, is appropriately regulated in Victoria.”
The VEC has previously said it has no power to force Google to disclose the name of advertisers who book Google AdWords campaigns.
A Labor opposition spokesperson said: “Questions need to be answered by the Liberal Party – if they are responsible for this deceptive ad campaign then it is nothing more than a sign of desperation by the Napthine Government who have delivered very little for residents on the Frankston Line.”
The Liberal Party’s Victorian campaign manager Andrew Cox did not respond to several requests for comment over several days.