EDITORIAL EXCERPT: Batman, Pyne, Cambridge A and an oily pair of Kochs

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

There were two elections last weekend, but only one is particularly pertinent to the forthcoming Federal election — and probably not for the reasons you think.

In the Batman Federal by-election in Victoria, Labor candidate Ged Kearney emerged victorious over Greens’ serial contender Alex Bhathal. In the South Australian State Election, meanwhile, perennial losers the Liberal Party managed to prevail after 16 years in the wilderness. Won the election, despite a 7.2% primary vote swing against them, on the back of a major redrawing of the electoral boundaries that was overseen, oddly enough, by Amanda Vanstone’s sister-in-law. (There is no suggestion the redrawing of the boundaries by Ann Vanstone, which handed four electorates to the Liberals, was in any way irregular, improper or corrupt.) It is the State election, not the by-election, which holds most relevance for the next Federal election, likely to be held in the next 12 months or so.

The by-election holds little relevance because the Liberal Party did not field a candidate in Batman. Consequently, with Labor generally being seen as more towards the centre than the Greens, Kearney would surely have been the recipient of a few per cent of the Liberal vote in that seat, enabling her to scrape home by 2%. One has to spare a thought for poor Alex Bhathal, who has stood for six elections and failed to win even one — this probably being her narrowest disappointment. With all due respect to this resolute candidate, it may have come time for her to look for another line of work.

But it is the South Australian election we should examine closely for markers of things to come. Not because the Liberals won ‒ they have been due to win in this State for several years ‒ but, rather, because of their campaigning.

As IA has reported, in recent years, the South Australian Liberals have been one of the most chaotic and factionally riven Lib branches, with Cory Bernardi’s conservative faction continually in bitter trench warfare against Christopher Pyne’s “Wets”. But now, with Bernardi resigning from the Libs in February 2017 to form his Australian Conservatives splinter, the Pyne faction appears to have attained ascendancy and unified the Party — at least for now. (The Australian Conservatives, mind you, picked up a mere 3.1% of the vote and appear to be heading for oblivion — perhaps closely followed by Nick Xenophon’s SA Best blow-ins, which also failed to nab a seat.) No surprises, then, that when new Premier Steven Marshall held his first press conference on Monday, standing beside him was a smugly beaming Manager of Government Business Christopher Pyne.

It’s pretty clear who holds the whip handle in the South now.

But beyond Pyne imposing his special brand of discipline upon the now crowing conservative Croweaters, in the wash-up of the weekend, it is the Liberals newfound technological savvy that is most noteworthy. Because in the last two South Australian elections (at least), Labor’s brilliant tactical campaigning has allowed them to sandbag marginal seats and win government despite losing the popular vote — including in 2014 by a whopping 3%. Now, any technical or strategic advantage the ALP may have held over the Coalition appears to be over.


It all comes down to data mining driving incredibly sophisticated targeting of voters. The sort of campaigning used by Cambridge Analytica (CA) to deliver the presidency to Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. election, despite the orange maniac losing the popular count by nearly 3 million votes.

Now the full extent of CA’s exploitation of a glaring privacy gap in the Facebook API, as well as the other underhanded means it allegedly uses to sway elections for its clients, is becoming clear. Facebook has lost 5% of its share value and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been called before the U.S. Senate Judicial Committee to face questioning about what his company knew about CA accessing millions of Facebook users’ profiles without authorisation. Similarly, the Congressional Intelligence Committee want CA CEO Alexander Nix to appear before them again. This is after, over the past few days, a UK Channel 4 sting operation showed Nix boasting about his firm smearing, bribing, extorting and disgracing opposing candidates on behalf of clients, including setting them up with Ukrainian prostitutes.

Yesterday morning (Australian time), Nix was suspended as Cambridge Analytica CEO.

Last year, Independent Australia reported on the Liberal Party holding meetings with Cambridge Analytica.

Liberal Party spokespersons have now moved to distance themselves from CA, with Fairfax reporting a Liberal source as saying the Party had been

‘… turned off by the firm's reputation stemming from its activities in the US.’

Rather than using the dark arts of Cambridge Analytica, Fairfax reported, the

 ‘… Liberals in South Australia adopted another US-based micro-targeting service – i360, backed by US businessmen and conservative political donors Charles and David Koch – in their successful state election campaign. The tool is said to have been critical to their victory. The Victorian Liberals are also using the platform ahead of the state election later this year.’

Cambridge Analytica was established by ultra-conservative billionaire Robert Mercer, the money-man behind Alt-Right fake news website Breitbart, and had until January Brietbart’s former editor and Trump adviser Steve Bannon as its executive chair. When it comes to influence peddling, however, these boys are Johnny-come-latelys in comparison to the Koch Brothers — two of the richest people on the planet via their oil squillions. The Kochs are the primary backers of the U.S. Tea Party and have spent billions in the United States and around the world to further their extreme libertarian ideology, prevent action on climate change and influence elections. Groups under their control have, since 1996, been subject to several criminal investigations and been fined huge sums for breaching American electoral disclosure laws. As IA has reported, they are notorious for setting up fake front and “astroturf” organisations to further their nefarious political agenda.

It should be scant comfort that these are the people the Liberal Party are working with rather than Cambridge Analytica.

As for their data mining tool, i360, it was the Trump campaign’s preferred tool for the 2016 election, except the Koch Brothers stiffed Trump and said he couldn’t use it.

So Trump moved on to Cambridge Analytica.

Sourcewatch describes i360 as

‘… a data analytics company that maintains "a database of over 250 million 18+ adults, including the 190 million who are registered to vote sourced from multiple consumer data compilers. It was dubbed the "Koch's data mine" by Politico …. Many observers think the project has already eclipsed the voter lists maintained by the Republican National Committee, posing a risk for some candidates and to the party's influence.’

In Australia, political parties are exempt from the Privacy Act 1988, which covers virtually every other sector of our society. There’s no obligation for political operatives to keep data secure, to use it only for appropriate purposes, or to notify affected people when they’re collecting their information. Now, it seems, the Koch Brothers may have gained access to all this data about all of us.

This is only half the story! The rest of this editorial, originally published as part of the Independent Australia weekly subscribers' newsletter, may be read in the IA members only area. It takes less a minute to subscribe to IA and costs as little as $5 a month, or $50 a year — a tiny sum for quality journalism and many great extras! 

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You can follow managing editor Dave Donovan on Twitter at @davrosz.

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