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TravelGuides – Australia’s 2022 election campaign will be overwhelmingly negative if social media ads anything to go by | Australian politics

TravelGuides – Australia’s 2022 election campaign will be overwhelmingly negative if social media ads anything to go by | Australian politics

If social media is anything to go by, the 2022 federal election campaign will be overwhelmingly negative with disputed claims about Medicare and tax policy featuring in early major party ads.

Although Clive Palmer’s United Australia party is the biggest spender so far, ad trackers for Google (including YouTube) and Facebook show the Coalition and Labor have also been active.

The UAP has spent $2.5m with Google in the last year, with Labor’s national secretariat a distant second on $55,800.

Whereas the UAP ads blanket the country, Labor has produced more ads and targeted marginal seats, particularly in New South Wales and regional Queensland.

Several are positive, featuring Anthony Albanese promising to “strengthen Medicare” and help families with childcare costs, but draw an implicit comparison with Scott Morrison with the tagline “that’s what I’ll do”.

But one of the most common video ads targeted at marginal seats is negative, linking governmental failures during the pandemic. It uses imagery that harks back to the 2016 campaign when Labor claimed the Coalition wanted to privatise Medicare.

“During a global pandemic instead of sorting out our vaccination bungles and instead of establishing federal quarantine centres, Scott Morrison has been busy cutting Medicare,” it says.

The ads refer to technical changes in mid-2021 changing the Medicare rebate for 900 health services and procedures which the Australian Medical Association campaigned against, warning they could increase out-of-pocket costs for orthopaedic surgery, general surgery and heart surgery.

Labor is playing a mixture of defence and offence, with Google data showing the ads are targeting Labor’s own marginal seats of Richmond, Dobell, Macquarie, Gilmore, Eden-Monaro, and Paterson in NSW and Lingiari in the Northern Territory; and Coalition marginals including outer-suburban seats La Trobe and Lindsay and the regional Queensland seats Flynn and Leichhardt.

Map showing areas targeted with political video advertising

The United Workers Union spent $42,750 with Google including a YouTube ad accusing the Coalition of trying to force pensioners onto the cashless debit card, and has built a campaign website around that claim.

Labor also has a campaign website on the cashless debit card, and MP Justine Elliot has promoted video posts on Twitter calling on Australians to “stop the national rollout of the cashless welfare card”.

Labor MPs in marginal seats contacted by Guardian Australia privately conceded negative campaigning will feature prominently. After Morrison’s successful “Kill Bill [Shorten]” strategy in 2019, it was time to “return the favour” said one, pointing to Albanese’s repeated reference to the Coalition’s “eight long years” in government as an example of likely messaging.

Another MP said that protecting welfare recipients by ensuring they are not on the cashless welfare card will likely feature, including to win over pensioners.

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The social services minister, Anne Ruston, has rejected any suggestion the Coalition will force pensioners onto the card.

But as Labor’s vague and untrue Medicare privatisation claims in 2016 or the mischaracterisation of Labor’s franking credits policy as a “death tax” in 2019 proved, scare campaigns can change votes.

Labor’s Facebook advertising campaign has a similar mix of themes, but with more positive ads in the mix. In the last three months the party has spent at least $107,472 on Facebook ads, with many ads calling for donations to the party.

The Liberals have been more active on Facebook than Google or YouTube, spending at least $42,000 on ads seeking to associate themselves with the accelerated pace of the vaccine rollout and urging supporters to join the party.

But their ads also have a negative streak, targeting Albanese in October and November, including with claims that Labor could “retrospectively change the rules” to claw back jobkeeper wage subsidies from small businesses.

Another accuses Labor of “flip-flopping on jobkeeper”, citing four instances it supported wage subsidies or called for them to be extended and one claiming Labor “said jobkeeper was a waste”.

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Labor has criticised the fact $38bn of jobkeeper went to companies that didn’t suffer the requisite downturn and supported greater transparency but has not proposed retrospectively clawing it back.

In another ad, the Liberal party depicts Albanese as a weather vane asking where he stands on “Labor’s retiree tax”, “Labor’s housing tax”, tax relief for workers, mining jobs, jobkeeper and vaccination payments.

Although the party political ads are an early indication of key messages in the campaign period, they are still dwarfed by taxpayer-funded government ads including $13m on the Positive Energy campaign about emissions reduction.

At Senate estimates, the Liberal senator Zed Seselja defended the campaign, arguing it “counters some of the lies” about Australia’s record, including promoting awareness of its “high take-up of solar … a great international story”.

TravelGuides – Australia’s 2022 election campaign will be overwhelmingly negative if social media ads anything to go by | Australian politics