Digital adverts for the Yes campaign in the Voice to Parliament referendum have been causing some level of controversy in the Australian media.
The Yes23 campaign is said to have spent almost $300,000 on social media adverts, for example, in just the past month. The rival No campaign thinks that Yes23 might have spent as much as $10 million on advertising across all media in the past few weeks.
What’s more, Yes23’s bill for social media ads is supposed to dwarf that of the No campaign by some 634 per cent. Yes23 was running 300 different ad creatives across Facebook and Instagram, with one said to have reached a million people.
The No campaign is claiming that Yes23 digital advertising is so pervasive because of the money it is receiving from corporate Australia. The big four banks have all come out in support of the voice and the campaign has received $2 million each from Wesfarmers, BHP and Rio Tinto. A Reuters poll of Australia’s 30 largest companies found five of the top 10 were funding or were planning to commit funds to the Yes campaign.
The Australian Electoral Commission’s referendum disclosure laws require all bodies involved in the national vote to reveal donations higher than the threshold limit of $15,200. But individual “referendum entities” are only required to lodge donation returns once the vote has been completed.
The actions of NAB, in particular, have caught the eye of Coalition MPs. The bank hosted a series of pro-Voice videos in February featuring campaigner Thomas Mayo on its website.
During one of the videos, Mayo says: “Some might criticise that it can only give advice to parliament but advice coming through firstly a referendum of Australian people saying ‘this voice must be respected and its advice acted upon’ is a powerful thing.”
Liberal National Party MP Garth Hamilton, deputy chair of the federal parliament’s Standing Committee on Economics, slammed NAB for the videos.
“Does the NAB CEO agree with Thomas Mayo – should his customers who are struggling to pay their mortgages also have to ‘pay the rent’?” said Hamilton.
“I want to know if NAB is all in behind Mayo or is their support just crass corporate virtue-signalling? Polling shows the CEO is out of touch with his customers. Things are going to get a lot tougher for mortgage holders, he should be focusing on helping his customers through these challenges.”
NAB did not directly respond to Hamilton. McEwan was in front of the economics committee last week but Hamilton did not attend the hearing either claiming he was helping to write the No pamphlet at the time.
Mayo was the subject of a “racist and offensive” political ad that appeared in the Nine-owned Australian Financial Review earlier this month.
The ad by conservative lobby group Advance Australia ran across a full page in the print edition of the AFR and featured WA independent MP Kate Chaney in a teal dress and pigtails sitting on the knee of her father, Wesfarmers chairman and Yes23 director Michael Chaney.
Chaney was handing a wad of cash with a $2 million price tag on it to Mayo, who was wearing a red shirt featuring the communist hammer and sickle.
Sky News said that the Yes23 campaign had been using its social media ads to “simply [amplify] friendly news coverage from outlets such as the ABC, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review.”
A spokesman for Nine said that the company regretted running the ad.
“The political advertisement about The Voice Referendum placed into today’s Financial Review should not have run and we apologise for that. We want to encourage a mature debate from both sides and avoid personal and/or inappropriate attacks,” the spokesman said.
Clearly, the situation with friendly and unfriendly press is far from clear-cut.
Lead image: @yes23au/Twitter