AEC investigating website registered to One Nation candidate fundraising for ‘freedom candidates’

The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is investigating whether a website registered to a One Nation candidate soliciting donations on behalf of “freedom fighting” election hopefuls has breached political authorization rules.

The Join The Conversation website, registered to the candidate for the seat of Brisbane, Rebecca Lloyd, purports to be a platform to connect voters to local minor party candidates.

But it only allows voters to see candidates from the United Australia Party (UAP), One Nation and the Great Australian Party, despite claiming to list candidates from all parties except those endorsed by Labor, the Liberals, the Nationals and the Greens.

The sole independent candidate listed is Kelly Jacobi, who has shared COVID-19 conspiracy theories on her Facebook page.

Join The Conversation’s YouTube videos include instructional “how to vote” videos directing voters to preference “freedom fighting candidates” from the minor parties.

The “freedom movement” is a loose coalition of groups and personalities which came to prominence during the pandemic by opposing lockdowns and vaccine mandates.

Some people from this movement are now trying to enter federal politics or throw their support behind certain like-minded candidates.

Ms Lloyd, after being contacted by the ABC last night, said she had sold her “shares” in Join The Conversation to ensure she ran “a clean campaign”.

The Join The Conversation website appears to be part of a push to more formally connect voters to the loosely organized coalition of “freedom” parties, including the Great Australian Party, UAP and One Nation.

The website features donations packages “to help your local candidates” ranging from $ 20 for a letterbox drop flyer to $ 2,500 for a full ad package to be featured in newspapers, on bus shelters and billboards.

The donations page included mock-ups of advertising material in which One Nation candidate Ms Lloyd was described as an “independent” on flyers which included how-to-vote instructions.

The images had no political authorization and were removed yesterday afternoon after One Nation was contacted by the ABC.

Against a blurred background of bookshelves, a man with brown hair and a dark jacket stands with a neutral facial expression.
Deakin University’s Josh Roose says the misrepresentation of political affiliations is “damaging to democracy.”(Supplied)

Deakin University political sociologist Josh Roose said candidates purporting to be independents could be attempting to gain water trust.

“This is about this broader global populist surge that we are seeing, where candidates paint themselves as untainted by the system,” Dr Roose said.

“Now these are very often the same old people dressed up in a new sentiment and a new movement.

“We know there is a record distrust [in politics] … And for that reason they are seeking to cloak certain actors, certain political parties in that independent garb.

The Join The Conversation donation page states, “We value transparency, especially for campaign donations,” and adds: “When you donate, you’ll be able to see exactly where your money is going.”

However, donations made on the website through the Stripe payment system resulted in a credit card charge to “Join The Conversation” which does not appear to be listed as a registered business or company under that name.

No further information or receipt was sent to donors.

The donation link was removed from the website late yesterday afternoon after questions from the ABC.

A spokesperson for Join The Conversation, who did not identify themselves, said it had “entered into a printing agreement with a commercial printer and all community donations will be equally shared among the freedom candidates”.

The spokesperson declined to say whether the website was run by Ms Lloyd, but said its “website and website hosting has been generously gifted by a local small business owner who is not a member of any political party”.

drawings which read "step five don't place any freedom fighting candidates below any one of the big four"
A how-to-vote video supporting “freedom fighting candidates” on the Join the Conversation YouTube page.(YouTube: Join the Conversation)

Queensland businessman Peter Cutforth took to Join The Conversation’s Facebook page yesterday to defend the website, saying it was “built solely by myself and my team as a 100% donation”.

He said it was built due to concerns about “subservience to globalist dictators and narratives around COVID” and “profit-hungry big-Pharma, and globalist powers-that-be”.

Mr Cutforth did not respond to questions by the time of publication.

The Join The Conversation Facebook page was launched last month and has run three ads targeting voters in Queensland, offering to put them in contact with their local minor party candidates.

The mobile phone number listed for the advertisements was answered by Ms Lloyd, who also declined to comment.

Ms Lloyd later texted the ABC to say she had sold her “shares” in Join The Conversation, but declined to answer further questions.

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