Politics

WA Liberals defend community petitions after ‘data harvesting’ claim

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One Labor campaigner told WAtoday they watched the petitions closely to predict where their opponents were expected to throw cash as polling day drew closer.

The petitions require signees to provide personal details and their emails with the disclaimer that they will receive further updates about the petition. Some have nearly 500 signatures.

Emails are one of the first pieces of information political parties use to build profiles of voters’ habits and political leanings, and can be used on platforms such as Facebook to develop more targeted advertising.

Greens integrity spokeswoman Larissa Waters described the petitions as “fake community interactions” given they were promoted by candidates, in some instances, days before an election commitment was made.

West Australian Greens senator Dorinda Cox said the petitions were “opportunistic hustles” and one of the reasons people were losing faith in politics.

“West Australian voters can spot dodgy data harvesting dressed up as ‘community petitions’, and they resent it almost as much as they do receiving unsolicited spam texts from Clive Palmer,” she said.

“If parties really want to hear from their constituents, they should try getting out there and knocking on a few doors for a change.”

But a Liberal party spokesman denied that the petitions were tools to harvest data from voters.

“Petitions are legitimate tools that have been used by candidates for decades, so voters can show support for proposed projects,” he said.

“By signing a petition, these voters consent to receiving further updates on the projects they have shown support for.”

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The party did not respond to questions about who saw the petitions or how they helped candidates secure election commitments.

Last year, WA Labor capitalised on the popularity of Premier Mark McGowan by creating web forms allowing people to wish him a happy birthday and happy Father’s Day.

At the time, Curtin University associate professor of internet studies Tama Leaver said the party had legally done nothing wrong, legally, but it was disingenuous to use Father’s Day to get voter details for a database for future campaigning.

Other Liberal Party petitions call for upgrades to the High Wycombe Aquatic Centre, the Alkimos Aquatic Centre, the health of the Canning River and further lighting and CCTV upgrades at other sporting precincts in Swan.

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