The federal court has ordered the removal of anti-Labor campaign material appearing across three electorates in Victoria, including the ultra marginal seat of Higgins.
Labor on Saturday sought an urgent injunction to remove campaign material appearing in Higgins, McEwen and Hawke, which used the Greens’ party colours and read “For our future, put Labor last”.
The Greens had, in fact, recommended a vote for Labor ahead of the Coalition on its how-to-vote cards.
Labor has accused the Liberal party of being behind the misleading signs, a charge the Liberals deny.
Peter Willis SC, acting for Labor, told the federal court that the signs lacked the proper authorisation and were a “serious and deliberate breach of the provisions of the commonwealth electoral act”.
The court heard the material was authorised by someone named “Hendrick Fourey” and a group named “Business Owners and Contractors Union”, apparently based on a vast industrial block on Monterey Road, Dandenong. Labor said Fourey did not appear to be a real person and was not on the electoral roll.
The address of the “union” is shared with an accounting firm in Frankston, named Lakewood Accounting, whose secretary is a man named Peter Crawford, the court heard. Its website appeared to have copied and pasted content from the Victorian Liberal party, the court heard.
LIES BUSTED: the Libs are trying to put up fake signs in Higgins. Already reported to AEC & police.
Don’t fall for the Libs’ desperate tricks. Our How to Votes say Vote 1 Greens & preference climate indies & Labor ahead of Libs.
Our actual how to vote: https://t.co/yCGfVFfSG6 pic.twitter.com/NXTHuR9Ti2
— Australian Greens (@Greens) May 20, 2022
After a brief hearing, Justice Mark Moshinsky ordered the respondents, including Crawford, remove the material, and otherwise authorised for law firm Holding Redlich to have it removed.
Labor was asked to take all reasonable steps to ensure the respondents in the case were aware of the court’s decision.
The Australian Electoral Commission said it was investigating whether the authorisations on the signs were valid and whether it misled voters about the act of casting a vote.
The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, made a polling day visit to Higgins, where Labor is fielding candidate Michelle Ananda-Rajah against the Liberal MP Katie Allen. Allen holds the seat on a margin of 2.6%.
Meanwhile, the Liberal party has lodged its own complaint to the AEC about signs and how-to-vote cards for the independent candidate for Kooyong, Monique Ryan. The complaint alleges that the authorisation requirements have not been met because the signage is written in Chinese but authorised only in English. Authorisations must be made in both languages, where two languages are used, according to the AEC.
Ryan’s spokesperson told the ABC that her campaign team had met all authorisation requirements.
“All Chinese election campaign material used by Dr Ryan’s campaign, including How to Vote cards, are properly authorised in the correct languages,” the spokesperson said.
On the last election day in 2019, signs appeared in Chinese language which were designed to mimic AEC colours, instructing voters to give their first preference to Liberal candidates.
The Liberal party official Simon Frost later told a court that the signs were intended to mimic AEC signage.