Group behind the ‘No’ vote campaign finds a new target

An example of Advance Australia's advertising focusing on the Dunkley by-election.

An example of Advance Australia's advertising focusing on the Dunkley by-election. Photo: Advance Australia

The group behind the advertising campaign opposing the Indigenous Voice to Parliament has a new target, as it pours tech and mining money into the Dunkley byelection before voters head to the polls on March 2.

Advance Australia, a conservative lobby group, has recently run dozens of online ads blaming the Albanese government for the rising cost of living and encouraging people to “put Labor last”.

“Cost of living is through the roof with electricity and groceries skyrocketing, housing is completely unaffordable and interest rates are smashing families,” the advertising states.

“To top it off, we have criminal immigrants running loose: Thanks Albo, this is on you and it’s your job to fix it.”

That advertising ran 39 times on Facebook in February alone, alongside other slogans blaming the Labor Party for the rising cost of living.

Some 90 per cent of Advance’s advertising has targeted Victoria since February 1, compared to just 17.5 per cent from October 15 to December 31 last year, according to data from political advertising tracking platform PoliDashboard.

Advance has also launched moving billboards on the back of trucks and newspaper advertising targeting the byelection.

Financial juggernaut

Advance claims that it has a $250,000 war chest, which could have a serious impact on the contest.

According to its 2022-23 financial listings, the organisation received more than $2.5 million in donations.

Significant donations came from tech entrepreneur Steve Baxter of Shark Tank fame and more than $1 million from a little-known retired car salesman from Western Australia.

Mathew Sheahan, the man behind Advance, said at CPAC 2023 that the organisation was launched in 2018  “to counter the left-wing activities of Get Up, Greens and Labor”.

“Advance was born out of the need to set up serious campaign infrastructure for the centre-right in this country,” he said.

“The media believes us to be some fringe group and that suits us just fine, we are happy to go underestimated.”

National focus

Advance’s advertising doesn’t focus on Labor candidate Jodie Belyea, but instead focuses on a perceived dislike of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and the rising cost of living.

The organisation has also pushed — without any basis — that Labor’s fuel efficiency standards are an attempt to introduce a “ute tax” and hammered Anthony Albanese for ‘‘breaking an election promise’’ after making changes to the stage 3 tax cuts.

Polling from the Australia Institute has found that 66 per cent of Dunkley residents support the Albanese government’s changes.

Advance campaigned against the Voice to Parliament last year and has continued to use advertising to attack Labor and the Greens for their support of a constitutionally enshrined Indigenous body.

Sheahan said the lobby was “relentlessly focused” on defeating the Voice.

“Very few people knew about the referendum, but this was an opportunity,” he said.

“It gave us a chance to shape the conversation and talk about things like the Uluru Statement and things on our terms.”

It also ran advertising in the lead-up to Australia Day, attacking those who advocated for changing the date.

Currently, federal political advertising has no requirement to be truthful or accurate.

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