Advance Australia targets Steggall and Pocock one edgy billboard at a time

Advance Australia, the conservative “anti-GetUp”, is again making headlines for the unsuitable causes.

Since the beginning of the election marketing campaign, the shadowy however well-endowed right-wing activist group has gained consideration for provocative billboards. Most not too long ago, it’s drawn threats of authorized motion from the Australian Olympic Committee and Swimming Australia over billboards that includes skilled swimmers in a marketing campaign in opposition to trans ladies in sport.

Before that, a truck with a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping casting a vote for the ALP, with the phrases “CCP SAYS VOTE LABOR” has been noticed all over the place from Canberra to Perth. At one level it was parked outdoors Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan’s home.

Also doing the rounds is a corflute attacking impartial ACT Senate candidate and former Wallabies captain David Pocock by claiming he’s a secret Green.

Beyond billboards

But billboards don’t win elections. Instead they inform a narrative of how a cash-strapped conservative foyer group with huge ambitions of bringing tradition wars to the forefront of election campaigns failed to actually make a dent.

In 2019, a yr after the group was based, its biggest reward to an election the place it centered on making an attempt unsuccessfully to maintain Tony Abbott in Warringah was “Captain GetUp” — a person in an orange superhero go well with who wandered round making impolite gestures at Zali Steggall.

In the intervening three years, it has managed to amass loads of extra funding, regardless of dropping key personnel. In the 2020-21 monetary yr, Advance obtained $1.3 million, together with the second- and third-largest political donations. 

As Crikey reported, a lot of that cash got here from financier Simon Fenwick and firms linked to the moneyed O’Neill household. In the identical cycle, Advance spent $2 million on political advertisements, totally on social media.

Since January it has been the eleventh greatest Facebook advert spender on social, political and electoral points — forward of Climate 200 and the Liberals (who don’t even crack the highest 20). The advertisements present the group stays weirdly obsessive about Steggall, with posts claiming the impartial MP is, like Pocock, a secret Green. 

Other advertisements allege a Labor authorities will put the Greens in energy, which may unleash all method of ills — from new taxes and weak nationwide safety to the lack of Australia Day. 

But is the group having any efficient political cut-through?

The give attention to Steggall — who many Liberals privately conceded months in the past would win Warringah — and Pocock — operating within the progressive bubble of Canberra — seems strategically odd. Advance claims it’ll spend $1 million going after Steggall and different impartial candidates, in addition to sandbagging under-threat Coalition seats. It additionally says it has 300,000 supporters and 10,000 donors.

Behind the scenes

Despite this, Advance seems to lack a seemingly efficient or coherent electoral technique. This may replicate adjustments which have come by on the prime. Its founding director, Gerard Benedet, a former Liberal staffer, give up to work for the Pharmacy Guild. His successor, Zed Seselja staffer and Sky News common Liz Storer, appears to be gone.

Now the joint is run by Matthew Sheahan, a person with no actual public profile, past backing just a few anti-same-sex marriage petitions on Facebook in 2017. Advance didn’t reply to requests for remark.

One latest addition on the prime is former ACT Liberal MLA Vicki Dunne, who joined the group as a director final month, days after ending ties together with her native social gathering department. Dunne, a Canberra Liberal elder stateswoman, describes herself on LinkedIn as a “retired political nerd interested in democratic institutions and political rights”.

Advance’s all essential Facebook web page is collectively managed with two different organisations. One is Whitestone Strategic, a conservative political consultancy based by former Australian Christian Lobby comms director David Hutt and ex-Seselja chief of workers Stephen Doyle.

The different — extra surprisingly — is RJ Dunham and Co, a Texan political consultancy for conservative spiritual teams. Dunham works primarily for American church organisations, in addition to the ACL, and has an Australian HQ it shares with a Christian radio station in Sydney’s Hills district.

None of that affect, international or home, appears conducive to political success. Unless Advance and its cash can discover a solution to make Katherine Deves nice once more. 

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