Independents targeted over residence by late digital campaign in Joyce byelection | Australia news

Rural independents are crying foul on the eve of the New England byelection over a late blast of digital targeting by the National party about whether or not candidates live in the electorate.

Pete Mailler, who is running for CountryMinded, lodged a complaint with the Australian Electoral Commission on Friday about the Facebook site “Own Your Vote”.

The controversy came as a bullet and threatening note were found on the premises of a school in Quirindi which will be used as a polling place in Saturday’s contest.

Voters in the northern New South Wales seat of New England will go to the polls on Saturday in a closely watched electoral contest critical for the fortunes of the Turnbull government, which has lost its working majority in the lower house courtesy of the citizenship debacle.

Barnaby Joyce, the former deputy prime minister and Nationals leader, is the favourite going into the contest, and Nationals appear confident he will hold the seat, although he faces 16 competitors, including Labor, the Greens and a number of regional independents.

The Facebook campaign, which is authorised by the NSW National’s state director Nathan Quigley, identifies candidates in the field who are not resident in the electorate.

Mailler, a Boggabilla farmer, who lives 40km from the northern boundary of the electorate, has branded the Facebook campaign “underhanded” and “ridiculous”, pointing out that Joyce did not reside in New England initially when he made the move from the Senate to the lower house.

Mailer said on Friday the electoral rules needed to be tightened if political parties were able to get around the advertising blackout before elections by campaigns to targeted voters on social media.

He said he was running because he was committed to the people of New England, and had extended family within the electoral boundaries.

NSW police meanwhile confirmed the incident at the Quirindi school, and said they would be present as people cast their votes on Saturday. “Police of Oxley local area command are investigating after the discovery of an item and graffiti at an education facility in Quirindi,” NSW police said in a statement. “The item, which was discovered about 3pm on Thursday the 21 November, has been removed for further forensic examination.”

“Police of Oxley local area command will maintain a police presence at the location throughout Saturday 2 December.”

In 2016, Joyce won New England with 58.5% of the two-party preferred…

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