Friday, March 31, 2023

Union-run phone banks and robo-calls in Mandarin: Behind the scenes in Chisholm

Over the course of the campaign for Chisholm, Victoria’s most marginal seat, Liberal volunteers and Liu herself will make what the party estimates to be 100,000 calls to voters.

Then there are the robots. Chisholm voter Dianne Oon says she has got “almost daily robo-messages from Gladys Liu in English and Mandarin. I am Chinese but my husband is not getting any. He is Caucasian”.

Chisholm Mp Gladys Liu Hands Out How-To-Vote Cards At The Mount Waverly Pre-Polling Centre.

Chisholm MP Gladys Liu hands out how-to-vote cards at the Mount Waverly pre-polling centre.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Liu’s says she has not made robo-calls but does leave messages with some voters who don’t pick up.

“I don’t understand Chinese so would not know what Gladys would have been saying in Mandarin,” says Oon. “In the English message, she states that she is my representative and to contact her if I have any concerns. The calls have come from different mobile numbers.”

Both parties contract private companies to do data harvesting – taking the electoral roll and adding details like mobile phone numbers. The parties also make dogged efforts to update their own databases as they knock on voters’ doors. These databases are exempt from privacy legislation to allow the politicians to more closely target political messages to residents.

Those who receive such a door knock in the run-up to the election – and Garland, Liu and their volunteers have knocked on tens of thousands of doors over the past few months – may not realise the interaction has served dual purposes: to plead for your vote, but also to collect information.

Volunteers Make Calls To Chisholm Voters From Carina Garland'S Office.

Volunteers make calls to Chisholm voters from Carina Garland’s office.Credit:Darrian Traynor

“If they have an issue, you try to resolve it with a follow-up letter,” says one federal MP, who is an old hand but who asks not to be named as he is not an authorized campaign. “It’s both a good way of actually helping them, but also of reminding them you’re there next time.”

Also growing in importance with each election is finding volunteers to staff pre-polling stations and hand out campaign material. There are two dedicated booths open in Chisholm, in Mount Waverley and Box Hill.

At the 2016 poll in Chisholm, 18,000 voters out of 87,000 in the seat voted before election day. In 2019, it rose to 29,000 out of 99,000. It’s expected to be even higher this time. The rise of pre-polling means parties must have enough volunteers to hand out how-to-vote cards – and this takes on particular importance in a marginal seat like Chisholm.


Both Liu and Garland will spend many hours at these voting booths between now and election day. Both were at the Mount Waverley booths when The Age visited on Thursday. Outside groups, including union representatives from the Victorian Trades Hall Council, were also there in the must-win seat, handing out cards urging voters to “Put The Liberals Last”. The cards were in the shape of a ukulele and decorated in Hawaiian flowers. Emblazoned on the front were the words, “I don’t hold a hose”.

Back at Garland’s office on Wednesday night, Quynh Nguyen, a kindergarten teacher and union member, had just had her ninth phone call to a Chisholm voter go unanswered. The tenth gets through.

“But they said they were in a meeting,” Nguyen says, slightly defeated. “It’s the first time I’ve done something like this.”

Nguyen says despite the frustration, she understands why people don’t answer.

“I don’t pick up numbers I don’t recognize either.”

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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