We looked into the lobby group taking on rugby star turned would-be senator David Pocock. Here’s what we found

CheckMate is a weekly newsletter from RMIT FactLab which recaps the latest in the world of fact checking and misinformation, drawing on the work of FactLab and its sister organisation, RMIT ABC Fact Check.

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CheckMate May 13, 2022

In this week’s edition of CheckMate, we bring you an investigation into the forces behind Advance Australia, the conservative lobby group going after independent ACT candidate David Pocock.

We also check in with Mosaic, FactLab’s election misinformation monitoring team, and share the stats on voter fraud in Australia.

Why doesn’t Advance Australia like former Wallabies captain David Pocock?

Conservative lobby group Advance Australia has independent ACT Senate candidate David Pocock in its sights, with Facebook advertising data revealing that the group’s offensive against the former rugby star is disproportionate to its campaigning against any other candidate.

Advance Australia made waves early in the election with mobile billboards depicting Chinese President Xi Jinping casting a vote for Labor, and although the group regularly attacks Labor and the Greens, it describes itself as “an independent movement that lives for mainstream Australia” that is not aligned to any political party.

The group has form when it comes to misinformation, with South Australia’s electoral commissioner recently finding the group had breached the state’s electoral laws by publishing “misleading and inaccurate” material, which remains online.

The analysis by FactLab’s Mosaic team, which drew on data compiled by Queensland University of Technology’s PoliDashboard, found that during March and April the group ran 88 “unique ads” targeting voters in particular states and territories.

Canberrans were on the receiving end of 22 of those (25 per cent), all of which attacked Mr Pocock either alone or alongside other candidates.

Advance Australia Facebook ads against David Pocock
Green menace: Facebook users in the ACT have been seeing ads like these from Advance Australia recently.(Supplied)

To put that in context, Queenslanders were targeted with 16 ads (18 per cent) and all were about national issues. Meanwhile, just one other candidate was singled out in highly geo-targeted material: independent MP Zali Steggall, who featured in four of the 19 ads targeting NSW voters, or roughly 5 per cent of the total sponsored by Advance Australia.

Unique ads refers to the advertisements’ distinct budgets, and it is possible for ads with identical content to count as multiple unique ads.

Advance Australia has run numerous ads — online and offline — depicting Mr Pocock as an undercover Greens candidate, sowing confusion about his political affiliation and echoing a theme common to its recent campaigns: that voters aren’t being told the full story.

So, why target Mr Pocock?

Policies aside, the independent is running for one of the ACT’s two senate seats, one held by Labor and the other by the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, a Liberal who opinion polls suggest is fighting for his political survival.

Advance Australia has links to a number of people close to Senator Seselja, including his former colleagues and family.

For example, Australian Security and Investments Commission (ASIC) documents show that Vicki Dunne, who served as shadow attorney general when the senator was leader of the Canberra Liberals, became a director of the organisation in February 2021.

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