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Labor’s Pensioners Fear Campaign is forcing a coalition between a rock and a tough place


Justine Elliott, Labor MP for Richmond on the north coast of NSW, opened this June by saying seniors should say goodbye to cheap food and drink at your local club and pub, or even buy a lottery ticket. Their reasons were pretty transparent. She has a large number of retirees in her patch.

But more and more MPs and candidates followed – in Melbourne, Tasmania, Perth, the Queensland region and NSW. Warren Snowden, the outgoing Northern Territory MP, ran a half-page ad on NT News.

Labor deputy leader Richard Marles is the highest-ranking opposition MP to buy-in and said this month the government wants to force retirees on the map.

“That’s a fact. Stop lying to people,” wrote Mr Marles when he replied to Senator Ruston on a Facebook post that employed thousands of his followers. “Only Labor can form a government to get rid of Scott Morrison and the cruel cashless Abolish debit card for good. “

Mr Marles based his request on a government bill submitted to Parliament last year that would allow older retirees to use the cashless debit card in extremely tight circumstances, accompanied by a claim the government wants to go further.

This appears to be based on previous comments by Senator Ruston that the government wanted to expand the cashless debit card geographically (but not to older retirees) and transfer people from other income management programs to the card.

Marles’ leadership colleagues, Anthony Albanese and Penny Wong, did not join the social media campaign. In private, some senior Labor officials are uncomfortable with the tactic.

Ian Yates, the executive director of COTA Australia, which advocates social policy for all older people in Australia, says the campaign is making retirees increasingly scared.

He said that the calls to the body are increasing and people need to know that “it’s just not true”.

“The minister wrote to me recently to assure all retirees that this will never happen,” he said.

“If you’ve heard or read this accusation – don’t be alarmed, it won’t happen.”


At the Senate Estimates hearing in October, Senator Ruston pointed out the three rare situations in which seniors may be put on the cashless debit card to notice that “the federal government has absolutely no power to turn retirees into cashless ones To force direct debit ”. Map”.

The first is where an old retiree opts for the card. Second, in Cape York, the Independent Family Responsibility Commission also has the power to put seniors on the cashless debit card.

“The only other circumstance in which a retiree can be required to switch to the card is under the State and Territory Endangerment Regulations, such as someone who is subject to child protection orders and the like,” said Senator Ruston.

Anne Ruston has taken over from Labor but an expert warns this is a losing battle.Credit:

According to estimates by the Senate, only 25 seniors were on the cashless debit card in October. Liz Hefren-Webb, an assistant secretary for the Department of Social Affairs, said these people were mostly in Cape York, where local leaders and the Family Responsibilities Commission continued to apply for access to the card. “The other five would be volunteers,” she said.

Senator Ruston is fighting not only in parliament, where cashless pension claims were not a high publicity issue, but also online, where she responded to Labor posts, calling it a “shameful fear campaign” for older retirees based on “blatant lies”.

Scott Wright, professor of political communication at Monash University, said there were no good options for a politician facing a misinformation campaign.

“Politicians are stuck here between a rock and a hard place – they can’t win – which is part of the reason why campaigns like this can be effective,” said Professor Wright. “They’ll have to fix the record, but when they do, it’s just to improve the story.”

Even mainstream media stories debunking false claims can result in niche deterrent campaigns being made available to a much larger audience than the relatively small number of Australians who follow politicians directly on social media, Professor Wright said.


“This story will make it accessible to a much wider audience, even if it evokes it,” he said. “Some readers will associate Labor negatively with campaigning tactics, but many will also be prepared – albeit subconsciously – to associate the LNP with the false claim.”

Labor used a similar campaign widely known as Mediscare in the 2016 election, warning the coalition to privatize publicly funded universal health insurance.

It culminated in automated calls to senior Australians on the eve of the election telling them that their health care was threatened. An angry Malcolm Turnbull, who lost 14 seats and barely stayed in power, called it the “most shameful episode in Australian political history”.

But in 2019 Labor was on the other side, facing an underground campaign to propose taxing Australians “from cradle to grave”. The coalition said neither the Morrison administration nor the campaign had any knowledge or connection with the post.

Over Easter, the message spread on social media and grew and grew. After angry calls and emails to the social media giant, Facebook later “downgraded” thousands of posts to reduce the importance of false warnings, and in two cases blocked mass networks of groups and people who misled voters.


Looking back at the loss of the shock campaign found when Labor reacted in the mainstream media to the campaign to deter death taxes made matters worse.

Facebook’s general stance is that if content is not just false but dangerous or illegal, such as misinformation about vaccines, hate speech, or material about child abuse, will stay online.

While a Facebook spokesperson for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age said during an autopsy on the death tax saga that “we have no policy preventing individuals from providing false information,” her new line is more nuanced.

It now emphasizes the fact-checking and warning labels it puts on stories that have been rated as false, altered, or partially incorrect. Fewer people will see these stories, but politicians are exempt from the third party fact-checking program because of their role in public debate.


Josh Machin, director of public policy in Australia for the newly renamed company behind Facebook, Meta, said it has learned a lot from working on global elections in recent years.

“Our approach includes finding and removing millions of fake accounts every day, reducing misinformation, disrupting bad actors and coordinated inauthentic behavior, and bringing an unprecedented level of transparency to ads,” said Machin.

Labor MP Julian Hill – one of the material’s largest shareholders – created a private member law called “Protecting Renters from the Cashless Debit Card Bill 2021” and circulated it widely on social media to kick off the campaign . The bill has been criticized by the government as yet another stunt.

However, he contradicts the idea that he is part of a scare tactic and says the government’s intentions are “clear”.

“My bill implements Labor policies to abolish the Liberals’ privatized cashless debit card, free thousands of Australians and protect all retirees.

“The government cannot be trusted because Mr Morrison lied before claiming it was a ‘process’ but then passed law to make the card permanent and allow all retirees to be forced onto the card will.”

It has sparked the ire of Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey, who says that Mr Hill’s bill was only being drafted to provide a platform for scare tactics.

“That the government is putting aged pensioners on the cashless debit card is nothing more than a despicable lie and needs to be called out. We never did, never will, and never meant to, ”he said.

Lucinda Longcroft, Google’s director of government affairs and public order in Australia and New Zealand, said technology companies have an important responsibility to support the democratic process in Australia and around the world.

This also included taking steps to curb the efforts of those who aim to spread false information on our platforms.

“Our electoral integrity work is focused on developing products that help voters interact with authoritative information, protect elections and campaigns from disruption, and help participants from all political backgrounds manage their digital presence,” said she.

Professor Wright says the reality is that the vast majority of citizens don’t follow politicians on Twitter or Facebook. However, he said such campaigns could be effective to the extent that they reach the wider community online and offline, beyond the usual political suspects.

“Responding to a false story by your political opponents can give it more legitimacy and encourage the media to cover it,” he said.

“This can also have an agenda setting effect and also lead to people associating their retirement concerns with a particular party. The most common effect, however, is to reinforce people’s existing views. “

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