Australia Labor accused of imitating popular petition platform change.org for political page
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A "confusing" SA Labor Party website which "borrows" from international petition platform change.org should identify itself more clearly as a political page, a politics law expert has said.
The Change SA site is a Labor Party operated domain, which encourages people to sign and create petitions about various issues, through entering their name, email address, mobile phone number, and suburb.
"Over 100,000 South Australians have signed Change SA petitions," the website's homepage reads.
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"Our community is engaged and passionate about many issues that affect them.
"Your petition could be next!"
Change.org's tagline reads: "The world's platform for change", while the SA Labor site reads "South Australia's platform for change".
The SA Labor Party's site similarly states "360,750 people taking action," while change.org states "439,671,566 people taking action".
University of Queensland law professor Graeme Orr said SA Labor's site did "appear to borrow some of the wording of change.org".
"That becomes a matter of intellectual property law and can be quite confusing I think to the average user," he said.
"The way it's been put up to look a bit like a change.org site might … lull [users] into thinking that this isn't an Australian political site."
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Not illegal, but ethical questions raised
SA Labor's secretary Reggie Martin said the website "was based on other successful petition websites including iPetition.com, megaphone.org.au and change.org".
"It would be clear to anyone visiting our site that it is linked, run by and authorised by the SA Labor Party," he said.
"The … website is funded by the SA Labor Party and every page on the site contains a clear authorisation by the SA Labor Party, in accordance with the Electoral Act.
"Issues campaign pages of this nature are used by all political parties, including the SA Liberal Party."
Opposition leader Peter Malinauskas said he believed "the authorisation is there for everybody to see".
"There are references to me as the party leader, and there are references to the Labor party and its members," Mr Malinauskas said.
"It’s appropriate that politicians and political parties do collect petitions.
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"It’s important that there’s a distinction between government platforms and political platforms, and if it’s a political platform, it should be openly declared through an authorisation which is exactly what has occurred in these instances."
Premier Steven Marshall said the Labor Party had .
"I think it's very clear it's trying to deceive people and I think that's what we've come to expect from the Australian Labor Party," Mr Marshall said.
"What we need to do is get back to the intent, the individual circumstances ... I think it is hard to argue that change.sa.org is doing anything other than trying to put itself forward as change.org and when people find out they'll be very disappointed."
Professor Graeme Orr said while he agreed electoral laws had been complied with, there were wider ethical issues around the prominence of political authorisations and branding on party websites.
"Political party websites come in many shapes and forms [but] it really should have the Labor Party [identified] in much more prominent font and position," he said.
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"Labor, obviously, like all political parties, wants to get information about peoples' interests and then they'll be able to market that to them [and] they're allowed to do that, because there are exemptions from the Privacy and Spam acts.
"This one is formally authorised, so it does comply with electoral law, but you have to scroll down to the small print at the bottom of the first screen to see that it is a Labor Party site."
A website created by Liberal MP Corey Wingard, outlining changes to the Oaklands train crossing, likewise does not indicate any obvious connections to the SA Liberal Party, but does include an official authorisation.
Bigger data questions in spotlight
Professor Graeme Orr said the collection of valuable personal information through petitions was "nothing new".
"All parties do this," he said.
"They get a couple of things – for one, peoples' email addresses and names… but the other thing is, you're basically saying and signalling 'I'm passionate about this issue'.
"This [Labor website] is clever, because it's drawing in data from people who might want to set up or sign these petitions, but it also is promoting Labor Party policies through the drop-down menus."
The collection of data by political parties has been a hotly-debated topic in South Australia since.
The state government and SA Liberal Party have both.
The South Australian Privacy Committee is looking into the situation, while the SA Ombudsman Wayne Lines has said he was keeping the option of a formal investigation "up his sleeve".
Mr Martin said the "only information" collected through SA Labor's Change SA website was "that which is provided by users on the petition".
"This information is strictly not passed onto any third parties," he said.
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