Why political parties can spam without penalty


Call centre image by Richard Blank https://flic.kr/p/dZhyjR

I should feel miffed, being one of the 14.4 million Australian mobile phone owners who did not receive an unsolicited text message from the political party led by the aspiring Member for Herbert, Clive Palmer.

Some of my Facebook friends, and even those not on Facebook, let the world know in no uncertain terms what they thought of receiving an unsolicited text from the United Australia Party (UAP), previously known as Palmer United Party (PUP).

Alas, I was not one of the 5.6 million people who received texts, so had to rely on second and third-hand reports to tell me they were (a) brief) and (b) geo-targeted, (the ABC’s example of a text sent to S-E Victoria promised fast trains for Melbourne – ‘one hour to the CBD from up to 300 kms away.’) Another forwarded to me by a Queensland reader promised a tax reduction of 20% for those in regional Queensland.

Those who were affronted by receiving the unsolicited text complained, but it fell on deaf ears because (a) it is not illegal and (b) it’s January and everyone is at the beach.

When asked about the electronic media campaign, Clive Palmer told the ABC the Privacy Act allowed for registered political parties to contact Australians by text.

“We’ll be running text messages as we get closer to the election because it’s a way of stimulating debate in our democracy,” he said.

Despite Mr Palmer and AUP receiving some 3,000 complaints, he told the ABC more than 265,000 people clicked through to the link ‘and stayed for more than one minute.’

The text should have come as no surprise, as United Australia Party has been letterboxing electorates for months with the party’s distinctive yellow colours and prominent use of the leader’s image framed against the Australian flag.

As I temporarily forgot that Mr Palmer re-badged and re-launched his previously de-registered party last year, I did an internet search for PUP. All I came up with was the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, a Canadian punk rock band and the internet acronym Potential Unwanted Programs (how fitting-Ed.)

It was an easy mistake to make, so thoroughly had Clive Palmer embodied the fledgling PUP (which he de-registered after serving only one term and ‘retired’ from politics prior to elections in 2016).

But last year Clive Palmer changed the name of the party he founded and under whose name he served as the Member for Fairfax from 2013-2016. As it happens, he re-used the historical name of the UAP, under which Prime Ministers Joseph Lyons and Robert Menzies served. He told The Australian last year that the re-establishment of a UAP was ‘a significant milestone in Australian politics’.

So it is true, alas, that registered political parties can text people they don’t know without fear of reprisal. All they need is a list and Mr Palmer, who says he does not own the list or know where it came from, told the ABC you can buy such a list from ‘any advertising agency in Sydney’.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the Spam Act allows registered political parties to send commercial emails and SMS messages to individuals as long as the message identifies who authorised the sending of the message.

Likewise, we are all fair game to receive unsolicited telephone calls at home leading up to an election (yes, I’ve had a few of those). You’d wonder why, though, given that telemarketing or cold calling has a 2% conversion rate.

ACMA says: “Opinion polling calls and calls from political parties, independent members of parliament, or candidates for election that contain a commercial element—that is, they are trying to sell you something or are seeking donations—are permitted by the Do Not Call Rules and may be made even if your number is listed on the Do Not Call Register”.

If that seems wrong to you, you can write, complain and generally make a nuisance of yourself by contacting ACMA. Tell them I sent you.

We have been dog-sitting/house-sitting in Brisbane, my laptop has been in the PC workshop for a week and it’s been too humid to think about much. So apart from tennis and binge-watching The Bureau, we have been mostly cut off from social media and its twittering masses.

The reason I knew about the UAP texting campaign was that a friend, who I will call Irate Step-mother of Three, cc’d me the reply she sent to Mr Palmer’s party. It was blistering.

Also invading our telephones and in boxes over the Silly Season were messages from people running  ATO scams (someone calls and pretends to be from the ATO, saying things like – if you don’t send us money immediately you will be arrested (and so on).

The recent round of scams prompted the ATO to provide an update and a warning on its website in December.

The golden rule, be it a scam, a marketing call or a (legitimate) electioneering contact), just hang up. You don’t even have to say ‘hello’.

As for unsolicited texts, you can delete and block sender, although you might be busy. As a marketing strategy, texting is gaining favour – the industry claims a 98% ‘open’ rate (email is 22%).

Professor of Law at University of Queensland Graeme Orr reminded us that other political parties use this tactic. Writing in The Conversation he said the Labor Party sent out texts ahead of the 2016 election purporting to be from Medicare itself, as part of its ‘Mediscare’ campaign (the LNP had talked about privatisation). This ploy led to a tightening of rules and a new offence of ‘impersonating a Commonwealth body’.

In breaking news yesterday, UAP sent out another text promising that if they were in government, they would ban the practice!

I take ACMA’s ruling on political texting and emailing quite personally. As my followers would know, I am obliged to publish a disclaimer at the end of every post where I offer subscribers the chance to opt out. All bloggers and purveyors of marketing emails and newsletters (don’t they have a habit of worming their way into your inbox), have to do this.

Registered political parties, however, can do whatever they like, so long as they don’t pretend the email/text came from somebody else. It is a travesty (something that fails to represent the values and qualities that it is intended to represent) – Cambridge Dictionary.

Now that I’ve been presented with a squeaky clean hard drive (even my contacts lists have vanished, awaiting an (edited) backup, this is the perfect opportunity to do a little electronic house-cleaning. Like everyone, I subscribed to far too many seemingly promising websites and newsletters in 2018. Yikes, some of them email every day!

The best solution is scroll down to the end of the document where you will find in the fine print an option to unsubscribe, or as the Urban Dictionary defines it:  To take yourself out of a convo (conversation) or email because it’s boring or has lost its initial humour.

That was an explanation, people, not an invitation.

Since you read this far, my subscriber drive to cover website maintenance costs is doing quite well but you only have till the end of January if you want to make a subscriber payment.  Follow this link (or not)


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Lyn in Busy Brizzy
January 18, 2019 1:03 pm

The catch with Palmer’s texts is that (unlike most spam texts) you can neither block them nor unsubscribe, at least on my device. There is an option to hide alerts for them, but that’s all.

James Cooke
James Cooke
January 18, 2019 3:12 pm

Consider me a participant in the convo.

Hugh Lunn
Hugh Lunn
January 21, 2019 4:56 pm

Thanks Bob for telling us that governments are the biggest spammers! No wonder they won’t do anything to stop it. Great story, well done,
Hugh Lunn