Rob Mills

Rob Mills

Rob Mills is a 58 year old Anglo male who has lived in Bradfield for 20 years, married for 25 years with two adult children. He and his wife have run a small business for six years; after corporate roles and consulting here and overseas and a few years as a proud house husband. He is qualified in Law and Asian languages and has post-graduate qualifications in Management. He says he’s the kind of person the Liberal Party used to want to appeal to, and is now the unpaid campaign manager for Nicolette Boele’s campaign in Bradfield.
Rob Mills

ON 22 APRIL No Fibs published a piece I wrote which Margo headlined with “A miracle is possible in #BradfieldVotes: the high hopes of Nicolette Boele’s campaign manager”.

In it, I concluded,

The seat of Bradfield is, indeed, losable by the Liberal Party, and that it is losable to only one candidate in 2022, Nicolette Boele. What’s more, I believe the Liberal Party’s activities here show that they believe that too. 

I had hoped to stir up some media interest in Nicolette and the campaign with what I thought was a good argument. Sadly, it either was not a good argument, was poorly made, or the simple size of the incumbent’s margin made contemplating a defeat risible, as the campaign stayed below most media’s radar for April and May.

But two weeks after the election it now seems fair to take stock and assess how we went. Although final numbers are not yet in and the seat has not been declared, we did not win. Nicolette did not join what the media still persists in calling the ‘teals’ on triggering a move to Canberra.

But you might not have noticed what we did achieve. It’s useful to look at some history to see what happened. Currently, with most of the vote counted, the TCP for Bradfield sits around Boele 46 : Fletcher 54. That’s a significant change from the “very safe” it’s been since 1993 (I don’t have election results further back than that).

In the table below I have put together some comparisons, and I think there are a couple of things to see.

Votes and swing as at 2pm on June 4. 2022

Celebrating the ‘no result’ night

When you look at the last column, you can see what we believe is the biggest first preference swing this election against an incumbent Liberal happened in Bradfield (15.17 percent) and for the first time at least since 1993 (but I suspect all the way back to Billy Hughes) the result for Bradfield was not known on election night.

Many pundits missed that, but you can be sure that all the volunteers on our campaign didn’t. At our well-attended celebration on election night, there were loud cheers when it became clear that Bradfield could not be called that night, and that it was almost certainly headed for marginal status, at worst.

Bradfield celebrating ‘no result’ on election night 21 May, 2022

Which brings me to the fact that what seemed likely on election night is now true – Bradfield is now marginal, with the incumbent (at 2pm on June 4) on 54.28 percent. That is a smaller margin than Liberal incumbents Falinksi, Hammond, Wilson, Zimmerman and Frydenberg were on going into the 2022 election. I’m just saying….

So, I stand by the argument I made in that previous piece: that Bradfield was losable by the Liberal Party and that it was losable to only one candidate. What I got wrong was my assumption that the message had penetrated the Liberal Party.

The politics of communications

We noticed on election day, for example, that signs like the one below were appearing at polling booths. We drew this to the attention of the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) at about 8.30am, and urged the view that these signs were a violation of s329 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, which says it is an offence for a person to print, publish or distribute, or cause, permit or authorize to be printed, published or distributed, any matter or thing that is likely to mislead or deceive an elector in relation to the casting of a vote.

This Liberal signage, we argued, was inconsistent with the decision of the Court of Disputed Returns in Garbett v Liu, which found several purple signs displayed in the 2019 Federal Election to be ‘misleading or deceptive in relation to the casting of a vote’ in contravention of s329. We knew it was Liberal because on the right hand vertical side, in tiny, tiny lettering, was the authorisation of the incumbent Liberal member. The signs should be removed, we urged.

Liberal signage on election day, Bradfield 2022

The reason I know in detail the AEC’s concern about the colour purple is because, months earlier, we sought advice from the AEC about whether we could use our colour palette – which included mulberry (note: we never used teal) – and the AEC provided the advice quoted below, which essentially said they’d rather we didn’t. And so we didn’t. We ensured we had no mulberry, especially white lettering on mulberry, anywhere near a polling booth. That was the right thing to do. The only purple signage at polling places in Bradfield was the AEC’s and the Liberal Party’s.

The AEC’s advice to us:

Helpfully, the outcome in (Garbett v. Liu) provided the AEC with guidance for determining when a political communication which is appearing to impersonate the AEC may be misleading or deceptive in relation to a vote. That is, a political communication will likely breach s329 where it is: 

• represented as an official AEC sign through similarity in appearance or colour; and

• placed in closed proximity to AEC official signage; and

• directing electors that preferencing a certain party is the ‘right’ or ‘correct’ way to vote.

AEC

It was our view that the Liberal signs met all three of those criteria. However, we did not hear back from the AEC until late Saturday afternoon, at which point they advised that the signs were in “technical violation” of the authorisation provisions, but they would let them stand. The s329 issue remains open.

Incidentally, I now treasure the photos of this signage because it demonstrates the numeracy I came to expect from the previous government: a bold specific numbered claim that gets the number of questions wrong.

In any case, it is unlikely that this signage, crude as it is, swayed many voters in our electorate, but someone in the Liberal Party obviously thought it was worth a try. There were similar perfunctory attempts made, in addition to the ones mentioned in my first post, in the last weeks of the campaign. And they demonstrate that a few in the local Liberal Party were vaguely aware that the people of Bradfield had been presented with a serious challenge.

Not the incumbent member, however, who thought it was a wise use of his time to be campaigning in Wentworth, four days before the election.

So, what next?

In the end, we didn’t win. But many of us are happy that we made Australian political history, and we are proud of our small part in that. It’s not a bad second prize.And everyone who worked on the campaign recognises that, notwithstanding all the hard work and the clear strategy we devised and implemented, we would not have done as well as we did without a candidate of the calibre of Nicolette Boele.

I do not know if Nicolette will choose to run again. That is entirely her decision. And I do not know what I will do next, other than attempt to keep off the large amount of weight I shed over the last three months (an effective, but not recommended, weight loss plan is to volunteer to manage a high stress campaign with many, many moving parts).

But I do know, from the literally hundreds of people who have spoken, emailed, or texted me and Nicolette since the election that something new has been created in Bradfield. First envisioned by Voices of Bradfield, who had the courage to act on their belief that there was no such thing as a safe seat, and then made manifest by Nicolette and the community that grew around her, we now have an energised community here, and I am very confident that, now they have seen what community activism can achieve, in Bradfield and surrounding electorates (looking at you Berowra), that will continue.

I am very glad I played a part in that. It’s a good legacy.

No Fibs coverage of #BradfieldVotes

Nicolette’s Boele’s launch speech ‘Change is not only possible, but necessary’ – Nicolette Boele launches in #BradfieldVotes

Twitter’s launch report Nicolette Boele’s call to action, be brave #BradfieldVotes and vote like your future depends on it

Rob Mills’ pre-election campaign report A miracle is possible in #BradfieldVotes: the high hopes of Nicolette Boele’s campaign manager

No Fibs podcast interview with Nicolette Boele  it’s hard but its doable Nicolette Boele on her quest to turn Upper North Shore #BradfieldVotes independent

Note: The AEC classifies seats as follows:

  • Marginal: when the leading party receives less than 56 per cent of the TPP vote
  • Fairly safe: when leading party receives between 56-60 per cent of the TPP vote
  • Safe: when a leading party receives more than 60 per cent of the TPP vote.