Campaign turns negative

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Targeted: Independent Rob Priestly is a target of robocalls and an anti-independent social media campaign. Photo by Rodney Braithwaite

Robocalls have rolled out on the seat of Nicholls as the election campaign reached the final weeks.

In the message a female voice asks what we really know about independent candidate Rob Priestly and his stand on “issues that matter” including the defence of Australia, our relationship with China, border protection and whether he supports higher taxes.

“And why won’t Rob Priestly say who he will support in the event of a hung parliament, what’s he got to hide, these are the important issues the voters of Nicholls need answers to,” the robocall says.

The message is endorsed by Victorian Nationals state director Matt Harris.

The message follows reports of focus groups being held in the electorate.

“These are legitimate questions that the so-called independent has failed to answer during the campaign,” Mr Harris said.

“People are voting on the future of our community and our country, and the voters of Nicholls deserve to know the consequences of their vote.”

Mr Priestly has publicly addressed the question of a hung parliament, preferring to use any bargaining power it affords appropriately while respecting the conservative nature of the electorate.

He said the phone message is misleading.

“Campaigns should be about a contest of ideas and the purpose of these messages is to generate fear, that is not leadership,” he said.

“The very reason I am running as an independent is I want better standards of behaviour and these are the sort of activities that erode trust in the parties.”

The federal Nationals have also in the past week launched a website and social media campaign targeting independents using the same orange branding as Mr Priestly urging people not to “risk your vote”.

An assessment of spending on social media on ABC TV’s Insiders program found independent Mr Priestly was outspending the Liberal and National parties combined over the past 90 days.

Gabrielle Chan, Guardian Australia Rural and Regional editor and author of Rusted Off - Why Country Australia Is Fed Up said the robocalls and the frequency of visits by senior Nationals figures including Barnaby Joyce was a clear sign the party is concerned about the safe seat.

“They are very worried,” she said.