Independent challenger Zoe Daniel claims her campaign has been cleared by Bayside city council of prematurely erecting political signs but federal Liberal MP Tim Wilson still believes she has jumped the gun.
The council issued a statement on Wednesday stating that although the federal election had not yet to be been called “we are within the [three-month] period in which an election must be held” so it would allow the signs.
The statement was later taken down following a complaint from the Wilson campaign that the council had incorrectly calculated the timing of the election.
The battle between the sitting Liberal MP and the independent challenger in the Melbourne seat of Goldstein is increasingly bitter. Wilson had accused the Daniel campaign of “ignoring the council” by erecting campaign material in breach of bylaws.
“It is unlawful to erect signs until after the election has been called,” Wilson wrote to his Goldstein constituents. “They don’t care if they break the law,” he said, inviting voters to dob in the allegedly unlawful signs.
Daniel is one of a crop of independent candidates backed by fundraising vehicle Climate 200 running for parliament on a platform of integrity, greater action on climate change and better treatment of women.
Although Wilson holds the blue-ribbon seat of Goldstein on an 8% margin it is threatened by the independent challenge.
On Wednesday, the council issued a statement clarifying that candidate promotion signs must not be displayed longer than three months under Victorian planning provisions.
The council claimed that 21 February marked the start of the three-month period within which the election must be held – suggesting signs erected after that date did not require a permit unless they were larger than 5 sq metres or on council land.
“Council has received complaints in relation to candidate signs installed prior to 21 February however no fines have been issued,” they said.
Daniel claimed victory in the sign fight, declaring the council had “confirmed that our campaign signs are legal and do not require a permit”.
Guardian Australia understands Wilson has appealed against the decision, on the basis of parliamentary library advice that 3 September is the deadline for the House of Representatives election, not 21 May which is the deadline for a combined lower house and Senate election.
The statement was no longer available online and the council was contacted for comment.
Wilson has also taken aim in recent days at Daniel’s voting record, arguing her vote for Labor in 2019 amounted to a vote “to introduce a retiree tax”.
Daniel responded that she did not support any change to franking credits or to negative gearing. “To suggest that I do is a lie,” she said in a statement.
Daniel confirmed she voted for Wilson “as a vote for Malcolm Turnbull in 2016” and voted “against him and Scott Morrison in 2019”.
“I am a classic swinging voter, she said. “The unsatisfactory nature of these choices was one of the key reasons I accepted an invitation from Voices for Goldstein to run as an independent.
“The Liberal party exhorting people to dob in members of the Goldstein community who are displaying my signs amounts to bullying and intimidation.”
After encouraging constituents to dob in allegedly unlawful signs, Wilson said: “I feel sorry for those households about to be fined nearly $1,000 each … because their candidate is knowingly encouraging them to break the law.”