MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire has come under fire for publicising federal election candidates’ promises on its website and using a photograph of Liberal Party candidates on Facebook to promote a fast-charging outlet for electric vehicles.
A photograph featuring the Liberals’ candidate for Flinders Zoe McKenzie, who won her election on Saturday, and Senator Jane Hume was placed on the shire’s Facebook after last Tuesday’s promotion of a fast-charging outlet for electric vehicles at Sorrento.
The picture was quickly taken down in the face of online criticism.
“The launch of electric vehicle chargers at Sorrento was an external event and was not organised by the shire,” advocacy, communications and engagement manager, Randal Mathieson said. “It was a good news story for our community, and we were keen to share it.
“After receiving a complaint, we decided to change the photo, given the timing close to a federal election.”
The timing was not missed by watchers of the shire’s Facebook who also noted how quickly the offending picture was deleted.
Posts on the site ranged from questioning why the shire was “providing a free advertisement for two Liberal candidates … does this not act as a conflict of interest and against the rules of promoting political parties?” to “stop wasting our money” and raising issues to do with potholes in roads and broken public toilets.
The decision to add election promises, or pledges, to the shire’s website was made by a “council consultative committee” of councillors and council officers (“Shire accused of being off track with pledges” 17/5/22). The committee – the mayor Anthony Marsh, deputy mayor Lisa Dixon, and Crs Antonella Celi, David Gill and Steve Holland – does not hold public meetings or publish minutes of its deliberations and decisions.
Unlike neighbouring Frankston Council, which listed all nine candidates in Dunkley, the shire chose to put up the names of two of the 10 candidates for Flinders, McKenzie and Labor’s Surbhi Snowball.
The tracker was aimed at promises relating to issues specific to the peninsula despite the election being for a national government mainly concerned with broader issues. The Greens’ proposal for an $8 billion free national dental service was not listed.
The tracker opened the shire to accusations that it had entered the national political fray.
Criticism on social media included comments that the tracker was “totally inappropriate” and a waste of ratepayers’ money: “If it’s not thorough, what’s the point?”
Another: “How is this meaningful? If we get a Labor federal government and a Liberal MP in Flinders then the promises mean nothing! And visa versa [sic]. … This tracker is very short sighted.”
The conditions attached to the shire’s pledge tracker set off a series of email exchanges between Marsh and Marg D’Arcy, campaign manager for Labor candidate Snowball.
After D’Arcy sent details of Labor’s plan to provide faster internet, Marsh ruled it as not being “a specific commitment to Flinders. As I’ve said several times, we are not publishing policies or commitments where the impact on Flinders is not clearly identified and quantified”.
D’Arcy: “I will not try to ask you to see common sense – I wish you well with your political alignment.”
Marsh: “What a disappointing and unhelpful response. I’ll take this to mean that there is no such commitment from the Labor party that you can evidence. All the best for Saturday.”
D’Arcy, in a much longer response: “From where I sit, for all the reasons I have given you I think you and your committee have taken a clearly politically partisan approach – what else am I to read into the way you have set this up which clearly sets political parties against each other.”
Marsh: “The pledge tracker highlights the difference in specific funding commitments at the local level by the various candidates – it is as simple as that. If a candidate is unwilling or unable to publicly quantify the value of a direct investment in Flinders, we won’t publish it.”
Neither Marsh or D’Arcy mentioned that the realisation of the pledges relies on the candidate being elected, the party they represent forming government and the money being made available when the next budget is adopted.
In May 2014, respected ABC journalist Sarah Ferguson asked then Liberal Treasurer Joe Hockey on the night of his first budget: “Is it liberating for a politician to decide election promises don’t matter?”