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Federal election: Driver fumes over Josh Frydenberg blocking 'entire road'

If you didn't know there was a federal election around the corner, you'd certainly remember when traffic was stopped by a large billboard of Josh Frydenberg smiling.

Some unlucky Melbourne motorists were less than impressed when traffic flow was impeded by a truck towing a billboard for the federal treasurer this week.

One annoyed driver snapped a picture of the obstruction, complaining the billboard was "blocking the entire road".

Sharing it on the Melbourne subreddit, many Victorians were quick to bemoan the state of political advertising.

"Traffic jams 'trickling down' to a suburb near you," joked one.

A billboard of Josh Frydenberg stopping Melbourne traffic.  Source: Reddit
This billboard of Josh Frydenberg left Melbourne motorists fuming. : Source: Reddit

"Why the hell isn't there a law against nuisance vehicles that exist solely for the purpose of advertising?" another complained.

It's not the only election billboard on our roads to raise eyebrows, with one spotted in Canberra depicting Chinese president Xi Jinping voting for the Labor party dubbed "racist" by critics online.

"A reminder that at the federal level, Australia still has no truth-in-advertising rules for political campaigning," one Facebook user wrote.

Election marketing wars getting increasingly 'ugly'

Scott Morrison has delayed calling the election until the last minute with ABC's political editor Laura Tingle suggesting on Thursday night that strategy was, in part, due to a desire to push out more advertising before the government goes into caretaker mode.

While both billboards would have been paid for from Liberal party funds, the line between party advertising and (tax-payer funded) government advertising is becoming increasingly blurred, says Dr Andrew Hughes, an expert on political advertising at the Australian National University.

A Vote Labor billboard with a picture of Chinese president Xi Jinping. Source: Facebook
This billboard has been seen driving around Canberra in recent weeks. Source: Facebook

Incumbent federal governments have been increasingly willing to use taxpayer funds for what effectively amounts to election campaigning.

"It’s definitely picked up a lot more," he told Yahoo News Australia. "They’ve realised they can do it."

Once the election is called, expenditure on public advertising is supposed to be limited to essential messaging such as health service announcements, and it should be approved by both side of politics.

But Dr Hughes says incumbents use "the smokescreen of government" to pad their election campaigns and run political messages targeted for the election with "plausible deniability".

While much is made about the lack of a truth mandate in political advertising, Dr Hughes says Australia is like the "wild west" compared to other nations when it comes to election advertising, especially on social media.

"In different parts of the world they have a lot tougher rules," he said. But incumbent politicians in Australia know "any action taken won’t be effective until after the election." Even then, there is no appetite for change among the major parties.

Last election the Liberal party came under fire for Chinese-language signs masquerading as offical Australian Electoral Commission signs, ordering people to vote for the Liberal candidate.

Both sides of politics skirt the rules, Dr Hughes says, pointing to Kevin Rudd using government advertising to spruik stimulus spending ahead of an election more than a decade ago.

'Fear campaigns the most effective'

In 2016, Labor sent unsolicited text messages claiming the Liberal party wanted to privatise Medicare. The next time around, the Liberal party targeted older Facebook users falsely claiming Labor wanted to introduce an inheritance tax.

"So in 2019 they [the Liberal government] did 'death taxes'. They saw it as pay back for Mediscare," Dr Hughes said.

In 2007, Kevin Rudd was the last "momentum campaign" which pushed a positive message of transformation. Since then, federal politics in Australia has been almost entirely focused on the negative.

"[They think] fear-based scare campaigns are more effective at changing behaviour at the level they need to win an election," Dr Hughes said.

With polling day expected to be May 14, and an incumbent prime minister renowned for his preoccupation with marketing, Australians should brace for another "ugly" advertising contest.

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