The verification of the individuals signing petitions for Federal Parliament will improve after an anti-wind farm group offered giveaways and freebies in exchange for submissions against a proposed offshore wind zone off the coast of the Illawarra.
As revealed by the ACM masthead, The Illawarra Mercury, last month, a woman offered to her 37,000 Facebook followers what she described as "blackmail" and "I don't care" in "The Illawarra Wind Farm chat" on October 6.
The woman, whose profile links to a business that offers eyelash courses for people who want to work in beauty salons, offered $1000 worth of services to the winner after they voted "no" to the wind zone.
Labor MP Susan Templeman, the Chair of the Standing Committee on Petitions, told Parliament that the petition, which garnered 11,291 signatures, requests that the House prevent wind turbines from being built off the Illawarra coastline.
"I'd like to say that the vast majority of petitioners signed the petition in good faith. Unfortunately, the committee is aware that a small number of signatures on the petition may have been collected through unethical means," she said.
Ms Templeman, acknowledging The Illawarra Mercury's reporting, said a government investigation has revealed the extent of the problem.
"As a consequence, the committee requested analysis of the petition's signatures be done by the secretariat," she revealed.
"That shows duplication of nearly 200 names, up to 1.7 per cent of signatories, meaning they appear to have signed the petition more than once using the same name but different email accounts," she said.
"It's not possible to verify if people signed the petition using different names as well as email accounts.
"The committee also wrote to the principal petitioner who has told us that he was unaware of the inducements being offered until he read our letter. That he has not seen the media coverage in the newspaper and that the offer of prizes or some people that signed the petition had been quickly removed."
Parliament has condemned any effort to undermine petitions to Parliament, particularly by offering incentives, in the "strongest terms" and Ms Templeman said changes would now be made.
"All signatories will now be required to check a box confirming that they have only signed the petition once," she said.
"While it has been implied that a person may only sign a petition once, it is now implicitly spelled out.
"Signing a petition multiple times compromises the integrity of the petition system by both increasing the number of signatories and misrepresenting the level of public support for a petition."
The woman had offered three prizes, "your choice" of "online classic beginnings course or volume (world wide) value over $800" as well as in-person training worth $1400 or $1100 worth of "body sculpting services".
Along with the inducements, she posted doctored photos of the Illawarra horizon with wind turbines and digitally generated images of turbines spewing black smoke.
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