Fraudsters hijack hospital push

Political fraudsters are using fake names to push political propaganda and disrupt a bid to save Colac Hospital's overnight urgent care.

Political fraudsters are using fake names to push political propaganda and disrupt a bid to save Colac Hospital’s overnight urgent care.

POLITICAL operatives are secretly campaigning for the federal seat of Corangamite online, posting political messages under fake names.

An internet user or users from Parliament House Canberra’s computer network has pretended to be at least nine different people while making pro-Labor comments online.

The comments, posted online under Colac Herald stories about Colac Area Health cuts, all come from the same internet protocol address, a specific computer server’s code.

The comments all praise Labor Party policies or belittle the Liberal Party but fail to identify the writer’s political links.

The false names included a fake Colac Area Health employee and a fake Barwon Health employee.

Community lobbyist Laura Cook said she would prefer to see political staff working to fix Colac’s hospital crisis rather than “spamming” people.

“I’m absolutely gobsmacked,” she said.

“What a complete utter waste of time and resources.

“They’re best fixing it rather than spamming people.”

But Ms Cook said the behaviour was a part of online life.

“I think it’s probably just the day and age we live in,” she said.

“It could be anybody talking to you; you don’t know it’s the actual person.”

University experts refer to the practice of using fake online personalities to try to create an impression of grassroots support as “astroturfing”, or fake grassroots.

Monash University politics lecturer Dr Zareh Ghazarian questioned the ethics of the “cynical” tactic to influence voters before the 2013 federal election.

“This is clearly concerned with trying to change grassroots voting intention,” Dr Ghazarian said.

“It’s often very difficult to discern who is a partisan actor and who is a non-partisan observer,” he said.

“It’s very easy to write what you like online, the checks are quite limited.

“The problem is while you can’t really verify them, people do read them and do absorb them.”

But Dr Ghazarian said political staff had been pretending for a “long time” to be grassroots voters to push a political message, usually on talkback radio and in letters to the editor.

“It goes part and parcel with the sorts of things that go on in a campaign year,” he said.

“It’s just an extension of modern campaigning; it’s the new battleground for parties.”

Dr Ghazarian said astroturfing could backfire on the political operatives responsible for the practice when people caught them out.

“It’s far more risky to engage in this sort of practice in the digital realm,” he said.

“You’re going to leave digital fingerprints all over things.”

12 Responses to “Fraudsters hijack hospital push”

  1. davebath

    This is so close to identity theft and fraud, using computers, that it comes under federal “anti-hacker” laws, and the Australian Federal Police should be given copies of the evidence by the Colac Herald … especially as the fraud was committed by misuse of government resources … and then watch for who tries and stops the investigation.

    I think both major parties at all levels of government have social-networking dirty tricks departments … but coming out of parliamentary services is going far beyond decency.

  2. Phil Alexander

    Jo, with all due respect you have got it wrong. To begin with the Baillieu Government has cut $616 million from State Health. The Federal government has increased spending on health in Victoria to the tune of $900 million.
    However, Baillieu signed up to a health agreement which among other things tied extra funding to population increases. His government greatly over estimated how much Victoria’s population was increasing. As a result the formula meant that Federal funding based on a smaller population increase was diminished by $170 million.
    Baillieu used this as an excuse for the his government’s gross under funding of our health system.
    Also, the Victorian Government has access to extra Federal funding for health if it supplied the Federal government with data about waiting lists in hospitals. David Davis, either through apathy or incompetence hasn’t done this.
    In other words the mess in Public Health in Victoria and more specifically in Colac rest squarely on the shoulders of the State Liberal Government. Anyone who suggests otherwise is either a Liberal voter or is ignorant of the facts.

    • jo

      Or just sick to death of the finger-pointing. I don’t care who cut the funding and who did what to whom, but given a choice between being a Liberal voter and being ignorant, i’ll go for ignorant thanks 😛

      Most people attempting to follow this tale, unless they go out and do their own research, don’t have a clue who took money away and who provided more. Of course, depending on where you attempt to do your research, you’ll get a different answer each time.

      Politics bores me no end. Too many egos and too few morals for my liking. My only concern is that the money comes from somewhere to keep the emergency department open. And i’m still sick of the point scoring.

    • Bill

      Phil, just a correction: the federal “cuts” this year are 107M, not 170M.


      Although both Commonwealth and State have made “cuts”, they are actually reductions in increases. If you look at Colac itself, it has received significant “grants” from the Commonwealth: the new theatre opened this week is a prime example.

      The problem with the Commonwealth cuts is supposedly the states weren’t expecting them. It is important to understand that they equate to about 1% of the hospital funding. (for CAH it equates to about 0.6% of their annual budget).

      The Commonwealth could/can offset that reduction against future proposed increases. That would make future change more difficult, but would ease the “immediate” issues.

      The State government could/can buffer the change in funding from the Commonwealth government. Under the current agreements, the State government is the managing body. They have chosen to pass the cuts on immediately, mid year. There was no requirement for them to do so.

      So yes there is plenty of room for blaming both, but ultimately the blame has to start at CAH. CAH was unable to manage a change in their budget of 0.6%. The only solution CAH put forward was to close the Emergency Department.

      CAH has been running at unsustainable losses of over 1M last year, The same amount that it takes to fund the Emergency department was spent on increasing executive salaries.

      But it gets worse. Not only have they mismanaged their budget, they completely failed to consult with doctors, nurses, or ambulance: the people that provide the services.

      And if that wasn’t bad enough, we then have members of CAH board, going around trying to deflect the blame, and make it into this silly political blame shifting game. Just look here, and on Sarah Henderson’s face book page for a clear example. Why is it we have Chris Smith, an “appointed” member of CAH board (not one we vote on), posting here on Colac Herald with his anti Cheeseman sentiments, yet failing to answer the simplest set of questions put forward to him. Where is his accountability ?

      Regardless of this cut of 0.6% in funding to CAH, there exists real problems at CAH. This cut may have been the straw that broke the bake, but even if we prop this one up, there’s much bigger underlying problems there. When the issue of the running at a loss over the past years comes up, all we’ve heard from the board is it is “deficit” instead of “debt”.

      Make no doubt of it, it is the board we need to hold accountable. To date, they won’t even admit they made a mistake. Thankfully the Barwon Medicare Local has stepped in and consulted with doctors. I think they are still going to have a hard time of it, because if the CAH board won’t stop playing politics and own up to their own accountability, it will be an uphill battle.

      Talk to your GP’s: yes those people CAH didn’t even bother talking to. Real change will happen at grass roots level.

  3. jo

    What we need is the party politics crap kept out of it altogether – we get it, federal AND state governments have cut funding, and blame is being laid all over the place.
    What we need is our emergency dept kept open, and i honestly don’t care who comes up with the money, as long as SOMEONE does.

    Stop point scoring already!

  4. Phil Alexander

    Speaking of the Colac’s Herald, it has a proud record of bias towards the conservative side of politics (that is the Liberal and National Parties). I well recall back in the 1980’s when Prime Minister Hawke visited Colac. He was,in fact, the first serving Prime Minister to officially visit Colac. The Colac’s Herald, in it’s wisdom, did not think this unique event was worthy of a front page story!
    This paper would be a much more effective servant of the community if it covered politics objectively.

    • Brian Crook

      Well said Phil. I had a very factual sentence removed from a letter to the editor last week which tried to put some balance into this debate with the statement that it was in fact Ted Bailleau who signed up to the funding formula that saw the federal money removed from the health system. This, on top of the $616m removed by the state government over the last 2 years that some people want to conveniently ignore. It is what it is and no amount of biased journalism will change it. What needs to change is the boards decision. Hopefully through the federally funded Medicare local group we will be able to resolve this for the long term. The boards financial situation is something for further forensics.

  5. Chris Smith

    Good work!!! Very well done Colac Herald!!!!!. Unfortunately we will see more of this on social media from the main political parties in this election cycle Very like the way they have their stooges ring talk back radio. Takes away from the genuine community debate.

    • Bill

      Chris, there’s been no real debate I’ve asked you numerous questions, but you’ve failed to reply. But you make time to cheer here. It’s a bit like how you manage to make time to cheer on Sarah Henderson, even though she has made zero commitment. So if you are serious about debate then engage here honestly and openly. Although members of the board of CAH aren’t elected by us, they should and need to be accountable to the members of our community. That’s a message you should have got from the public meeting but you still haven’t acknowledged it.

      So let’s bring the discussion back to the facts. Are you willing to answer/disclose:

      (1) Why wasn’t the community involved prior to the decision to close the emergency care unit? Why weren’t local doctors and ambulance services consulted ?

      (2) Why weren’t avenues such as Medicare Local’s support sought earlier? Why has it taken their intervention before local GP’s and staff are consulted ?

      (3) Why did CAH have a record “deficit” last year, a year when they set out to correct the massive deficit from the year before, instead it increased the deficit from 600K to 1000K; 250K of which was extra executive salaries ?

      (4) What implications do these “deficits” have on the long term viability of the hospital? What real changes in management have been made to reverse the alarming trend over the last two financial years?

      (5) What real level of funding cuts has the hospital had from both the state and federal government? We’ve heard you talk about the federal cuts, but why no mention of the state cuts ?

      (6) Why is it you criticise Cheeseman saying he did nothing, when in fact he helped with the funding of major works for the hospital. When did the board approach Cheeseman asking help: was it before or after the decision to close the emergency department. Why is you blame Cheeseman for the federal funding cuts but fail to acknowledge the federal funding that is Barwon Medicare Local which bailed our community out, when you the board didn’t ?

      (7) When do we get to vote on who is on our hospital board ?

      (8) Given the funding to keep the emergency department open 3 months longer is 75K, in a budget of 40M, that’s about 0.2% . Why couldn’t any “deficit” facilities as per previous years when the hospital chalked up $1M in “deficit” be applied ?

      (9) Are you or the board willing to yet admit you made the wrong decision ?

  6. Bill

    Agree with Phil. If Colac Herald is worried about so called “hijacking”, then they should require email verification and log-in.

    But in any case, I haven’t noticed any major spamming of any of the threads here. I think the largest number of replies to any article would be around a dozen. And there’s been some serious questions raised, questions which remain unanswered. It’s curious how Colac Herald chose to run with it’s headline today, rather than serious journalism in regards to the questions asked.

    For example, in the article where the “board lashed back at Cheeseman”; one has to question the journalistic integrity. Cheeseman had, as others have here, raised serious questions about why the CAH board never talked to doctors or ambulance etc, before making the cuts. But instead on following up on the real issues such as why doctors weren’t consulted, we get brilliant rational discussion such as the federal member for Corangamite doesn’t live in Colac, and almost an entire sub article devoted to saying it isn’t “debt” it’s “deficit”: as if that changes the important factors.

    To date, we are still yet to see Colac Herald step up to the plate and do some real fact finding and exposing reporting. Instead it seems the herald is directing it’s content to continually imply the federal cuts caused the closure, playing on most people’s ignorance of the facts. Instead, Colac herald seems focused on playing politics itself.

    This article itself reeks more of shooting the messenger than addressing the real issues.

    BTW: I find it funny that the Editorial in the herald today also doesn’t attribute the author’s name, nor is the editor’s name listed in the paper’s details.

  7. Juggy

    Is there anyway we can know the names that have been used??? Just so people don’t get sucked in. I have no preferred party in any level of politics, I think they’re all fake. LoL

  8. Phil Alexander

    I need more detailed evidence before I will believe this story. I am one poster who has been critical of the Baillieu government’s handling of State Health but I am not a member of any political party and never have been. However, I have closely followed the record of both the major political parties over a number of years and it is clear that the Liberal Party is not committed to providing an effective public health system.
    This story just seems to muddy the waters and make people think that any criticism against the liberals is a labor party plot.
    I would be more than happy to comment favourably on Liberal Party initiatives to improve public health but to date there haven’t been any.