The Liberal Party has pulled controversial Google advertisements after criticism and complaints from candidates standing against them. When Google users searched for the names of many candidates running in lower-house seats — including Socialist Alliance candidate for Cunningham, Jess Moore, who raised the issue in the national media — the first link to appear was a sponsored link to a Liberal Party website.
Moore told Green Left Weekly: “People who are trying to find out what the candidates stand for are being mis-directed to the Liberal Party's anti-worker and anti-social policies.
“This kind of dishonesty and manipulation should be condemned by all those who believe in open and democratic elections. Rather than debate us, the Liberals are buying sponsored links to confuse and mislead people.
“I have attended every 'meet the candidates' meeting that I've been invited to, in the interests of democracy and choice. The Liberal Party has only shown up once. Now, it’s trying to stop people finding out about the alternatives.
“For candidates not backed by the major parties it's incredibly hard to get your ideas out to a broad audience. We can't afford TV ads, for example. But the internet is a much more even playing field.”
Moore challenged Philip Clifford, Liberal candidate for Cunningham, to a public debate.
The Australian Electoral Commission also received complaints about the ads on legal grounds. Electoral law expert Graeme Orr told the Sydney Morning Herald the ads could give rise to a legal challenge because they could cause voters to be confused about party affiliations and the identities of candidates.
Moore said this case was just part of a broader problem.
“These ads are symptomatic of the undemocratic and corporate dominated two-party system”, she said. “Candidates from minor parties are largely excluded in the mainstream media and don't have the resources to distribute their ideas and information to a broad audience.
“It means most Australian people hear only the narrow views of the Labor and Liberal Parties — no wonder people aren't interested in politics!”