Labor claims PM's Net Harbour deals breach Spam Act

Labor claims PM's Net Harbour deals breach Spam Act

Summary: The federal Opposition has asked Australia's spam legislation enforcers to investigate what it claims is a breach of the Spam Act 2004 by the Prime Minister, coalition politicians and a company whose directors include the Prime Minister's son.

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The federal Opposition has asked Australia's spam legislation enforcers to investigate what it claims is a breach of the Spam Act 2004 by the Prime Minister, coalition politicians and a company whose directors include the Prime Minister's son.

Senator Kate Lundy, the Shadow Minister for Information Technology, said in a letter to the Australian Communications' Authority's acting chairman, Bob Horton, that the alleged breach -- whereby Prime Minister, John Howard and other coalition politicians used the company Net Harbour to distribute unsolicited bulk e-mail to voters in their electorates -- contravened the intention of the Spam Act 2004.

"I ask you to investigate these arrangements as a matter of the utmost urgency," Lundy said.

"It is my view that they contravene the intention of the Spam Act 2004, an Act [in] which I have a close interest".

The letter comes just one day after the coalition and Labor parties moved into election mode following the Prime Minister's announcement yesterday that a federal election would be held on 9 October.

The Spam Act does include some exemptions for charities and political parties and some reports indicate the government is successfully exploiting a loophole in the Spam Act. ACA anti-spam manager Anthony Wing pointed out before the election announcement that the Act clearly only covers commercial spam and "does not cover non-commercial ones such as charities and election [materials] by registered political parties".

"As far as I'm aware, it is purely electoral material and there are no restrictions under the Spam Act on electoral materials," Wing said.

However, Lundy said that, on the basis of her participation of debate in the Senate on the Spam Act, "I believe the Net Harbour activities and those of John Howard and his fellow Ministers are in breach of the law.

"Net Harbour, as a commercial entity, is not entitled to the protection of the political party exemption.

"Further, Mr Howard, who claims to have personally funded his son's activities, also falls outside the exemption".

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the weekend that the NSW Liberal Party conceded it had contracted Net Harbour to distribute campaign e-mails to voters in the Prime Minister's Sydney seat of Bennelong and was subsequently reimbursed by Howard. However, several other members of parliament, including Health Minister Tony Abbott and Education Minister Dr Brendon Nelson, are reportedly using the company to provide similar services.

Lundy said "the importance of swift action against illegal campaigning techniques at such a sensitive time needs no explanation.

"Net Harbour would be liable for a fine, as would John Howard and his Ministers, if they are found to be in breach of the Act".

She said the integrity of the Spam Act demanded swift and decisive action.

"If a commercial business had so wantonly sought to exploit a loophole in the legislation as quickly and publicly as Mr Howard and his Ministers, the community and the parliament would expect an example to be made of that entity".

Speaking to ZDNet Australia  , Lundy declined to provide details of Labor's information technology policy ahead of the election, saying only it would be released in September.

The Shadow Minister also revealed she would be very keen to take on the information technology portfolio should the Labor Party win government.

"I would hope so," she said. "I'm very happy with all my portfolios".

Kristyn Maslog-Levis contributed to this report.

Topics: Collaboration, Government AU, Security, Enterprise 2.0

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  • Why are there exemptions in the spam act. unsolicited email is spam, no matter where it comes from. A amendment to the existing law seems to be the easiest way to resolve this issue. If a person wishes to recieve information from charities or government, they can subscribe to the relative electronic newsletters.
    ozzie_robert